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Sunday, April 5, 2015

Ten years after the Tsunami in Sri Lanka- Zita Subasinghe Perera

We all know that Sri Lanka was hit by a tsunami triggered by a 9.0 magnitude earthquake off the coast of Sumatra on December 26, 2004. The tsunami was one of the worst disasters ever recorded in Sri Lankan history. The tsunami left tens of thousands dead, many more homeless and caused widespread chaos throughout the island. In addition to the human impacts, the tsunami had widespread effects on Sri Lanka's environment and ecosystems.

 Civilian casualties in Sri Lanka were second only to those in Indonesia. Reports vary on the number of deaths but estimates range from 40,000 to 60,000. At least 800,000 or more people living on the coasts of Sri Lanka have been directly affected. The eastern shores of Sri Lanka faced the hardest impact since they were facing the epicentre of the earthquake. The south-western shores were hit later, but the death toll was just as severe. The south-western shores are a hot spot for tourists as well as the fishing economy. Tourism and fishing industries created high population densities along the coast.

 The International response was amazing and thanks to so many people and organisations, much has been achieved to repair the immense damage.

 This is an extract from an article I published in 2005 in the local press, and in the hospital newsletter and I wanted to share it with my colleagues as we look back after 10 years. I am aware that some of you were more directly affected and I have no intention of rekindling those awful memories, but it would be good to know what my colleagues did in the way of helping Tsunami victims because I know that you did.


I would like to thank Mahendra G(Speedy) for encouraging me to send my old article about the Tsunami written in 2005 within days of that disaster, to our batch blog for consideration of inclusion as a 10 year memorial of the event. Mahendra gave it his expert touch at every stage to make sure it is just right. This is his usual generous and capable hand in action and I am truly grateful.
Zita (Perera) Subasinghe
ps. I hope that other members will take part in this discussion with  contributions of their experiences. Our blog now gives us a chance to share things and benefit from each ones experience and use it for the common good. ZS



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  2. Zita
    What a sombre National Tragedy with so many lives lost. In particular, my heart goes out to those in our batch who lost loved ones. We share their grief.
    At the time there was mention of a similar tragedy in SL some 800 years ago. I wonder if that is true and is mentioned in our chronicles.
    As for the future I hope Tsunami Warning Systems (TWS) are in place and people who live in those areas at risk have been told what they should do when the sirens sound. Do they ever practice a drill for an event that occurs once in a millennium?
    Thank you for that stark reminder of the fragility of life. It merely shows how fickle life can be. Enjoy everyday and count your blessings!!
    Take heed of what life offers
    And embrace your families
    For who knows
    What tomorrow may bring

    Post Script: I am sorry to end in such a glum note. Spring has sprung in the UK. There are flowers everywhere and the cherry blossoms are in full bloom. There is new life with the birds hatching their eggs in time for the summer. The rose buds have appeared. The landscape is changing from a drab brown to a bright green. The new cricket season will begin next month when NZ will play England at Lords.

    1. Thanks, Nihal, you are right of course, that this is not an event one can remember without feeling extreme pain, but you have ended with hope of a new spring and cricket season( even though Ritchie Benaud has died today. May he R I P)

  3. It is always good to reflect on how at times of disaster, people forget their differences and act for the greater good. It is a pity that this "chemotactic" attraction of Human beings towards a common goal is not sustained without the "chemotactic" stimulus of disaster. The less the presence of a "common enemy", the more the recognition of our differences. Sad but true.

  4. It is not possible to think of this event except with profound sadness.
    To those of my batchmates with whom I have not personally shared their grief I say- Please accept my belated but very sincere and heartfelt sympathy.
    (Anton Ambrose for one- though you may not remember me!)
    It was not until very much after the event that I had news of these bereavements - at which point I felt reticent about reopening wounds.
    Out of unthinkable personal tragedy has also emerged an award winning book-"The Wave" by Sonali Deraniyagala,who I figured is Swyrie's niece,who lost her parents,husband and both children in the tsunami.
    The grief and agony she would still be suffering is unfathomable.
    My heartfelt sympathy goes out to her, Swyrie, and the many who have suffered similarly,and hope that time will at least make their grief bearable.
    There were tragedies within tragedies that followed this event.
    The international response was indeed on a remarkable scale.
    Personally I know of medical institutions in NewZealand and in NewYork which gave their staff leave to work in the worst affected areas of the east coast of SL and provided funds as well.
    Great work was done in the way of relief work,setting up of feeding centers,clinics,counselling, and trauma management,specially for orphaned children,with classes in art work and drama etc.
    Credit is due at this point to my dear friend Pramilla Senanayake who provided the group of doctors from NewYork with signage in Tamil to aid communication.
    Thanks Pramilla- your help has not been forgotten.
    These doctors were again released from their duties for varying periods in the following year,so that progress of the work they commenced could be ensured.
    However it was a very tragic and devastating experience for them when the distant village where they put their hearts and souls into working in,was indiscriminately bombed to nothingness some months later.
    Amidst the innumerable tragedies,there was also national shame and embarrassment,with allegations of misappropriation of donated funds.
    There were rumors galore- apart from reported allegations,I personally experienced embarrassment when a patient visiting from Denmark presented to me with a clip from a Danish newspaper which reported funds donated by Denmark going astray in SL.
    There were also reliable eye-witness accounts of donated goods being diverted from where they were intended to reach.
    The tragedies were many and seemed to have dominoed- with goodness and evil intertwined.
    While acknowledging and empathising with those who have suffered such immense trauma,one can only hope that time will at least take the edge off their grief and help them heal.

    1. Thanks, Rohini, for those wonderful thoughts. I share your feelings and sentiments towards our dear batch mates who lost loved ones.

  5. Read your very sensitive and thoughtful comment Rohini. "The Wave" is a must read although it is so sad to read it..