WWW Virtual Library - Sri Lanka



Sri Lanka’s tsunami survivors lose hope, shun coast


All six children gone with the killer wave

“I wish that my husband and I would die soon.”

© Reuters

5 January 2005

PALLAI, Sri Lanka - Housewife Viyarseeli Nadarajahlingam’s whole life revolved around her six children and helping her husband mend his fishing nets on an idyllic white sand beach at Sri Lanka’s northern tip.

But she could only watch helplessly in horror as giant waves swept her three boys and three girls—the youngest just a year old and the eldest 13 -- to their deaths, and she is struggling to give new meaning to her life.

Her humble fishing village was flattened along with scores of others by the giant deadly tsunami of Dec. 26, and as she wanders around a makeshift camp for thousands of displaced in the northern village of Pallai, she hopes only for her own death.

“The water came up so high—I tried to gather up all my children and tried to move. But the water just plucked my six children away while I held onto a tree,” the 39-year-old said on Wednesday.

“I wish that my husband and I would die soon.”

Her desperation is echoed all along Sri Lanka’s northeastern coastline, where thousands of people had already been forced to flee their homes in the 1990s as Tamil Tiger rebels waged a bloody two-decade war for autonomy against the state.

Young men have lost new brides, mothers have lost babies, whole families have been destroyed - and most survivors vow they will never return to live by the sea.

The tsunami waves killed around 30,000 people along Sri Lanka’s southern, eastern and northern shores, and more than 5,000 are still missing. The death toll is nearly half the 64,000 people killed during the Tigers’ civil war.

“The waves came rolling towards us, swept through the house. That was the last I saw of my wife or my 8-year-old daughter,” said fisherman Sasikaran Velliyah, 26, who is staying in a tent at a another camp for displaced.

“I lost my wife and my child. Now what’s the point in having a job?” he said. “I don’t care where I live hereafter. I have nothing left to live for.”

Seashore off limits
The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, who have de facto rule over the northeast thanks to a ceasefire agreed with the government three years ago, have decided to ban houses near the sea.

They have also banned fishing for fear the region’s famed seafood could be scavenging on the remains of corpses that are still being washed ashore more than a week after the disaster.

But camps are no long-term solution, and the Tigers have decided to start resettling families as soon as possible.

“We have come up with a new idea. We want to settle these people back in their areas again, on higher ground, away from the sea, around a mile (1.5 km) away,” Col. Soosai, head of the rebels’ feared naval arm, the Sea Tigers, told Reuters on a visit to one school-turned-camp.

The camp’s walls are still pockmarked with bullet holes dating from the war.

“What we want to do is put up tents and put two families or two relatives together, because here very soon there’ll be diseases like diarrhoea and malaria,” he added, appealing to foreign donors for boats to help the staple fishing industry recover.

President Chandrika Kumaratunga has also announced plans to turn coastal areas into a conservation zone, and ban any more building by the sea.

Palm trees are all that is left standing in some seaside villages that Reuters visited.

Pieces of rubble are caught in the tops of trees higher than houses. Boats lie snapped in half next to mangled landmine warning signs, vibrant sarees tangled around branches as if hung out to dry.

Only goats remain, rummaging through mounds of filth and the contents of ruined lives.

“I have been displaced twice. Once in 1991 when the army entered our area, and a second time in 1996,” said Rajeswary Sriskadarajah, 50, whose grandson perished when her fishing village was hit.

“I am frustrated and sad. I will not go back to the coast—I want to live inland.”


WWW Virtual Library - Sri Lanka