GALLE, Sri Lanka -- K. Rupawathi and her husband A.P. Tudor Jayasekera ponder their future at the ruins here where their home once stood. The couple lost their home and all their belongings after tsunamis as high as 50 feet devastated their town and swept across coastal areas. U.S. servicemembers are in the country helping deliver food supplies at various locations. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Val Gempis)
GALLE, Sri Lanka -- A drawing by a Sri Lankan child shows the trauma of what he experienced after tsunamis as high as 50 feet devastated his town Dec. 26. U.S. servicemembers are in the country helping deliver food supplies at various locations. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Val Gempis)
by Master Sgt. Orville F. Desjarlais Jr.
Air Force Print News
1/20/2005 - COLOMBO, Sri Lanka -- A.P. Tudor Jayasekera and his wife of 20 years, K. Rupawathi, stand in the ruins of what was once their home. All that remains are bricks, cement pieces and six pieces of wood from their roof, but they said they feel lucky.
They were out of their home when a 20-foot tsunami crashed into their coastal village, located about 25 miles south of here. The waves wiped out everything in their path.
Fortunately, their four daughters and two sons escaped death by climbing on the roof before their home collapsed. Unfortunately, Mr. Jayasekera lost his sister, nephew and niece.
“We have nothing left,” Mr. Jayasekera said. “We can’t build here again because the government won’t allow homes to be built closer than 100 meters from the coast.”
Mr. Jayasekera’s story is all too familiar on this island, where an estimated 38,000 died in the country’s worst disaster ever recorded.
He is staying in one of the many camps that house more than a million people left homeless. Airmen are bringing food and supplies to relief workers, who distribute the goods to the camps. The U.S. military joint operation is here as part of an international effort to help Sri Lanka recover.
Jutting from the debris are white flags made from sheets or shirts that wave in the ocean breeze, marking the location where loved ones are missing -- their bodies never found. They are presumed dead. There are 6,000 flags that dot the eastern and southern end of this island.
Down the road from Mr. Jayasekera’s village, in Kahawa, children use crayons to draw pictures. Allison Thompson, a Red Cross nurse from New York, uses art as an emotional outlet for the 800 children stranded there.
Many children draw dead bodies in the waves, and some children depict people bleeding and dying on land. An overturned train dominates many of the pictures.
A commuter train was traveling through the children’s small village when a tsunami slammed into the rail cars and flipped them on their sides. All but one of the 1,500 passengers died. Bodies were strewn everywhere. Two boxcars are still missing, presumably taken out to sea. To prevent the spread of disease, the villagers’ only option was to bury all the bodies in a mass grave. It is unmarked so as not to draw the attention of the media.
It is difficult to picture the enormity of destruction. Some servicemembers here liken it to a war zone, but even that pales in comparison, unless one compares it to Hiroshima, Japan, after the explosion of the atomic bomb. Sri Lanka’s ground zero stretches across the entire eastern and southern coasts -- more than 400 miles.
Once the waves rumbled inland, they gobbled up everything in their path and carried rubble and bodies with them when they receded, causing palm trees to lean toward the ocean.
Even three weeks after the tsunami, those devastated by the disaster -- homeless, jobless and without food -- continue to visit what is left of their homes. But nothing remains.