Post-Tsunami Panic

Trip Start Oct 20, 2004
Trip End Apr 26, 2005

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Flag of Sri Lanka  ,
Saturday, January 29, 2005


As we left Tangalle, we felt as though we had hit another wall. It was frustrating to know the need for help was widespread in Sri Lanka, and we felt disappointed at a personal level not to have found a niche in Tangalle. We agreed when we came to Sri Lanka that when we ceased to be of assistance, we would leave for Singapore to resume our original journey. So, we left Tangalle still wanting to help but feeling that our time to leave the country had arrived.

We boarded a bus in Tangalle on Friday morning. The first bus ride was a miserable, smelly experience standing sandwiched between other sweaty commuters. When I finally found a seat I relaxed but for a moment before Andy told me to move aside; the young boy behind me was barfing his breakfast into a bag (with some aiming problems...he apparently got the back of my seat as well). Grateful to have skipped my own breakfast, I prayed for the ride to end and for my sensitive nose to betray me at least until we arrived to the next station. After what was perhaps the longest hour of my life, we arrived in Matara.

We changed buses in Matara and boarded a 'luxury' air-conditioned bus (more like a large van that can pack in about 30 people...sardine style) and soon thereafter departed for Colombo. About 45 minutes into the drive, a man came forward to say something to the driver, who quickly stopped the bus. Through the other passengers we learned that he had received a phone call with information that another earthquake had struck Sumatra, and that a tsunami was predicted to hit Sri Lanka within the hour. The driver panicked and turned the bus around, heading back to the Matara bus station. It was horrible - the people around us had fear written all over their faces. I'll admit, I too reacted to the news; my stomach was in my throat before I realized the reality of the situation. We were witnessing post-tsunami stress, and our fellow passengers were terrified. Unfortunately, the worst thing to do in the face of another tsunami would be to drive back to Matara - the entire stretch of road parallels the beach. Our driver was momentarily unable to rationalize a logical course of action, and sped toward Matara, stopping only to let some of the passengers de-board along the way. When we reached Matara, only four of the original passengers remained (including the two of us), one of whom was a chemistry professor who had lived in the States for a while. He translated information for us, and having contacted his own sources reassured us that the tsunami prediction was false. Together we boarded another luxury bus, headed to Colombo...again. We arrived to Colombo in the evening following an excruciatingly long day of travel.
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