Sri Lanka Tsunami Blog

Fear of Another Tsunami

We got the news around 11 o'clock in the evening. It spread like wildfire.

The radio reported that an earthquake measuring 8.2 on the Richter scale had happened near Sumatra. The president of Sri Lanka warned of an "impending disaster" and ordered all coastal residents to evacuate to higher ground, at least 2 kilometers away from the coast.

In Weligama, all hell broke loose. People took all they could carry and ran inland, seeking refuge in temples. Belgian soldiers drove along the main road shouting, "Tsunami coming!" and telling people to move to higher ground. By the time the Sri Lankan police showed up to warn of the danger, most residents had already fled to temples and other places far away from the coast.

"As soon as I heard the news, I secured all our things, took my wife and ran as fast as I could to the temple," said Wasantha Abesooriya, a 47-year-old Weligama citizen. His house is located on Main Street, around 150 meters from the sea. When the warning came, he stowed his mattresses, gas cooker and some other possessions between the roof and ceiling, where the water wouldn't reach it. Then he tied the cooker's gas cylinder to his door to keep it from being swept away and left with his wife for the Agrabodhi Temple, around 1 kilometer inland.

Wasantha, who praised the Belgian army's efforts to warn people of the danger, stayed in the temple all night with his wife.

Sriya Abeyweera, a shop owner in her early 40s said that she was horrified by the news. "A neighbor told us about what happened at about 11:30 p.m. We just left everything as it is and ran," she said. Sriya, her 12-year-old son Minon, and the rest of the family left their home on the old Galle road, about 200 meters from the sea, and sought refuge in a house on top of a small hill about 1 kilometer away.

Around midnight, the radio reported that a tsunami could possibly arrive around 1 a.m. This was followed by a report of an aftershock of 6 on the Richter scale, and an advisory from the Sri Lankan government to stay on alert. I kept watching the news and called my friends, giving them updates on the situation.

Finally, at 3:40 a.m. an announcement was made that the danger is over. Relieved, but still terrified, many Weligama residents decided to remain in the temples until dawn.

I was curious about how Chathura Madhushanka and his father dealt with the warning and went to visit them later in the morning in the refugee camp where they have lived since the Dec. 26 tsunami destroyed their home.

As soon as he heard the tsunami warning, Chathura said he grabbed the pictures of his mother, brother and sister, who were killed in the tsunami, and ran with his father a couple of kilometers inland.

"Most of the camp residents climbed on top of the building beside the camp, but we just kept going," said Chathura's father, who felt that they would be better off away from the coastal area than on the roof of a building close to the sea. The fear was still visible in both of their eyes. Like so many Sri Lankans, they didn't sleep all night.

Chathura was still holding the pictures of his mom and siblings. He didn't go to school today. Actually, no one in Weligama did. Students who showed up at the schools were sent home for lack of teachers.

Although the earthquake was felt in some areas of Sri Lanka, no one seems to have felt it in this area, but people remain extremely frightened. Rumors are that about 70 earthquakes happened in the past 12 hours. Some think another tsunami could hit Sri Lanka any minute.

-- Sascha Gerbracht

By washingtonpost.com |  March 30, 2005; 7:53 AM ET  | Category:  Chathura Madhushanka , Sascha Gerbracht
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Comments

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Thanks for Information.
I was terribly worried about you and the other citizens in Weligama and around.

Glad to hear that erverything is ok if you can tell all this in that way...-and that there was no new wave destroying the less that most people only remained in the shore areas

Posted by: Felix | March 30, 2005 06:09 PM

well i didn't even get to understand how aweful this really was. i was reading your artical in the readers digest and found this link, wow how much information we have today i love it. well back to the case at hand your reporting is great you really seem to have a way to make me feel like i'm there hope all is well keep the faith

Posted by: Tyler | April 2, 2005 11:01 AM

Please read follow this link to the editorial in another newspaper. It deals with another relief worker's view of trauma relief in Sri Lanka:

http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/opinion/218468_focus03.html

Posted by: Joan in Spokane, Wa | April 3, 2005 03:52 PM

Also on the same note(from a Sri Lankan journalist)
http://www.theacademic.org/feature/112565069066097/index.shtml
from
http://www.theacademic.org/

Posted by: anonymous | April 4, 2005 05:09 PM

I read your articles with interest. I drove past Weligama in mid February when I visited Sri Lanka to delivery an aid package coordinated by the Australian Medical Association (Western Australian Branch).
Weligama carries a lot of memories. My partner worked in this beautiful coastal town as the District Medical Officer in the late 70s.
The town hasn't changed much but the tsunami has changed everything there!
I hope the money colleted will reach people and assist in rebuilding community infrastructure destroyed during the tsunami. All the stories I heard from people suggest that the trickle down aspects of humanitarian assistance are rather slow in the southern coastal belt. I don't know why!

Posted by: Sunil Govinnage, Perth, Australia | April 13, 2005 11:50 PM

I feel so sad by the peoples life now
I pray they will heal and live again!
thank you for your latest talks with the people.

Posted by: Kelly | May 5, 2005 06:30 PM

Thank you all for the nice comments :-)

Posted by: Sascha Gerbracht | May 6, 2005 08:38 AM

I read your article and was affected in ways words can't describe, keep your faith up God has the answer.

Posted by: marva | May 8, 2005 10:15 AM

it's a little funny to read the same article and post a comment on it all with americans!!!~

Posted by: gerry | May 12, 2005 10:30 AM

good luck to the suffered

Posted by: linda | May 18, 2005 07:03 AM

Hi thankyou for your reports. Are you still in sri lanka? I am a photographer based in the uk and going to sri lanka on the 25th july 05. i am particularily passionate about the childrens experiences and am going to set up a pen pall exchange project so that children in the uk of all ages can write and send photos to children in sri lanka. I feel that this would be very valuable so that they can share common interestst internationaly and make friends learning from one another.I am initially going to make contact with orphanages and also do a photographic documentary and maybe a film. Would you have any contacts that maybe usefull or could we meet up in sri lanka? My email is haildiamond@yahoo.co.uk and mobile 07957 195476 (uk)
I look forward to hearing from you
Helen Diamantopoulo

Posted by: helen diamantopoulo | July 2, 2005 12:04 PM

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