My Story of the Tsunami
Trip Start Nov 28, 2004
12Trip End Nov 23, 2005
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Where I stayed
After staying on in Kandy a few more days after my last entry, the five of us by now (Lee and Darren, plus their two mates from the UK Berry and Dave) traveled down from the hill country all in high spirits to a beautiful little place on the south coast of Sri Lanka on Christmas Eve called Unawatuna. We were all excited about spending Christmas and New Years on the beach after having been away from the coast for a couple of weeks, and you couldn't wipe the smiles off our faces.
We had booked a bungalow in Unawatuna about 200 meters behind the beach, after trying several hotels right on the beach but could not get anywhere as we had left it too late to book. So we settled for a sleepy little bungalow with three rooms, set in a peaceful garden close to the beach, bars and restaurants
We had a fantastic Christmas Day on the beach with dozens of other tourists and some locals also celebrating. Plenty of great food, lobster, king prawns, beer, cocktails, warm sun, big smiles and happy faces.
Christmas Day rolled on in peaceful bliss. As the sun set, we carried the party well on into the night with more celebrating in a bar right on the beach attached to Vigita beach cottages. At some time in the early hours of Boxing Day, after having a bit too much to drink, I went to find a spot to lay down on the beach to watch the stars. I fell asleep and Berry and Dave must have joined me at some stage later. When I woke up on the beach it was about 4am, so I shook the other two awake. We were the last three people on the beach. We walked back to our bungalow together bug eyed and then fell into a blissful asleep.
At 9am on Boxing Day I woke up as thirsty as hell, and staggered outside with a hangover to ask the Sri Lankan family that we were staying with for a bottle of water and a cup of tea
Just as I was standing still in a daze in our outside lounge area of our bungalow watching a gecko twitching on the ceiling, screams rang out all around me from outside. I poked my head out the door to see dozens of locals running down our lane screaming hysterically. At first I thought that a fight had broken out between some locals and others were running towards it to break it up. Then I watched as the mother of our bungalow and her two daughters ran from their house past me and out into the small laneway as well, also screaming in Singhalese. I remember at this point how eerily quiet the surrounding jungle had become, only the sounds of those peoples screams cut through the stillness. Then I heard that unforgettable sound of the first wave, a mix of whitewash and cracking timber. I looked up (by this time I was standing outside in the garden) and watched for a few brief seconds as a solid wall of black water, mud and debre about 12 feet tall rushed towards me from just beyond the back of the garden I was standing in. Something, I have no idea what, but an instinct took over and I bolted back into our room screaming as hard as I could to the others to get the fuck out of the room and quick, and grab whatever you can
With all five of us on our bungalow roof, we looked around and saw an ocean of chaos. Buildings were gone, cars caught in trees, and a level mass of black water carried on as far as we could see, the only distinguishable trace of land was a change in the water from black to ocean green where the beach once was. Then Dave saw at the back of the roof in the water below us the hand of the grandmother of the family we were with. We scrambled down off the roof and into the water to try and reach her but by the time we got to her she had drowned under a wall of brick. Her son pulled her body out the following day.
When things calmed down and the water started to fully recede, we got down off the roof and swam out into the street as others joined us in disbelief. We walked through the mess to Thambapanni Retreat, a hotel further up onto higher ground on the hills surrounding Unawatuna, and were met by the hotel manager and so many other tourists who had also retreated to this hotel.
Tourists flooded in over the next 2 days, some had lost nothing, some had lost everything but the clothes on them. Others had sustained serious injuries, others not a scratch. The hotel turned into a hospital downstairs, and the hotel staff fed us and provided what rations they could for us without any question. We stayed on for a further 3 days at the hotel, and kept busy helping carry dead bodies to graves, giving a hand wherever we could and just being in company with one another
In our Western world, we look at death as a terrifying and unworldly thing, and are so far removed and cushioned from it in our everyday lives that we are not used to dealing with it when it shows itself in front of us
There is so much hope here in Sri Lanka, people are smiling and helping each other before themselves. There is such a sense of community here, like one huge close family. These people will rebuild and get back their lives, they are strong, and I so admire them for their tenacity and strength.
Anyway, we left Unawatuna after a few days. The British Embassy were arranging to evacuate all tourists in the area but I didn't want to really be carried by an embassy not my own. The five of us spent another week in Sri Lanka, back in Negombo where I started weeks ago. It was good to get back to a place which had not been affected as much, and see some familiar friendly faces. We bought clothes again, and a few other small luxuries to make the road ahead that bit more comfortable.
Everyday I thank whoever or whatever is up there and took care of us on that Boxing Day of 2004. I feel so very lucky to be alive, and to have come out of it relatively unharmed. I feel very sad for the people who have lost loved ones. I think it will be something that will stay with the people who went through it for the rest of our lives. I will be forever humbled by Sri Lanka, its people and the December 26, 2004 Tsunami.
On the 2nd of January I flew out of Sri Lanka and landed in Male in the Maldives. I'll update you shortly on my adventures there (!!). I know that this entry has been completely devoid of my usual humour, but in light of the situation, I chose to write the facts as they were, and out of respect for the people involved, left out the humour for another entry...
By the way, I'm now in India!!