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Last Updated: Sunday, 20 February, 2005, 15:16 GMT
Sri Lanka relief: 3-4 February
debris on beach

Daisy Lowe, the president of the Sri Lankan Association of South Wales, travelled to Sri Lanka to help in the aftermath of the tsunami.

The disaster has left more than 30,000 in the country dead and 835,000 have been made homeless.

Daisy sent back diary reports from the country. Here is the first extract:


Called at the offices of the National Christian Council. They will inform me when the containers I am waiting for have been cleared. The agents will handle the clearance for them. Told them I was going to be away in Batticaloa for a few days, and I would get in touch with them on my return.

They gave us some advice on the state of play there. The Tamils Rehabilitation Organisation might requisition goods we carry.

Since the town is not affected and most things are available there, we decided not to take things from Colombo. Got all our food, water, etcetera, sorted for a midnight departure to Batticaloa.


Arrived in Batticaloa. Went to Bar Road first to drop my friend off at her home. A lagoon and a stretch of beach a quarter of a mile wide lies between Bar Road and the sea.

The wave swamped that strip of land, came across the lagoon and destroyed every house in the street except my friend's, although it did suffer flood damage.

There was a health centre in front of her house which bore the brunt of the tsunami. There were bits of boats everywhere. The library which was on the shore of the lagoon was no more. The debris of this brick building was washed across the road.

The children┐s park was completely washed away with no sign of any of the equipment. As the park, the library, and the health centre were local government property some clearance had taken place.

People were salvaging bricks and roof tiles as best they could. At my friend's house, her aunt and her maid stood on the dining table and managed to escape the fury of the sea. Items from other houses were washed into their home.

To add insult to injury, the house was broken into and the door locks, chandelier, brass tap fittings, the back door, etcetera, were gone by the next day! We met one of the fisherman. He lost 18 members of his family. The fisherman had a part-time job at the co-operative store and was in the town when the tsunami hit.

Four bodies were found and buried in mass graves. The fisherman and his family was told not to touch the bodies as they were bloated by the time they were found.

The health authorities asked them to dig the mass grave. The victims were photographed by the health ministry and buried.The photos are displayed in the local hospital. Fresh water was a problem initially but tankers are filling plastic tanks placed in the street, placed every few hundred yards. The wells have not been cleaned yet, almost six weeks after the tsunami. We proceeded to the children's home where they had guest rooms for visitors. There were 20 children when we went there, and 25 by the time we left.

More tsunami children are expected. The pastor who runs the home desperately needs to add an annexe to accommodate these children. At the moment, in order not to overcrowd the sleeping quarters, five of them sleep in the pastor┐s lounge. The children are given a religious upbringing. The older ones look after the younger ones, bathe themselves, wash their dishes after food, and stick to a daily routine. They do not have to be prompted to do things.

All the children have a siesta during the afternoon, as it is very warm.

Tsunami victim in Sri Lanka
There is little good news for the disaster survivors

Games are from 1730hrs onwards. They shower and sit down to do their home work until 2030hrs. Then they have an evening meal and bed when they are ready.

After lunch and a little rest, we set off for Navaladdy beach. What met us was unbelievable. There was one surfaced road, partly washed away. All the wells were filled with sand and concrete debris. The houses were flattened.

There was one voluntary group from Matala trying to repair this road with the debris from the houses.

They were armed with one large mallet and a few shovels. They were not making much progress. Full marks for trying though! Where is the government?

Youngsters were going home on their pushbikes. They were being paid Rs.150 per day for clearance work - using just hands and shovels.

The area is not going to be built on again. A bulldozer will flatten and bury the debris - chunks of brick walls and concrete - in a couple of days.

The people of Navaladdy had nowhere to run to as there is a lagoon on one side and the sea on the other.

Some escaped because it was Sunday morning and they had gone to church, but some died because they went to churches which were hit by the tsunami.

There was a Hindu festival in one of the temples and people had gone to worship and were swept away.

The wave rose above the coconut trees, travelled the width of the lagoon, and and crashed into the homes on the opposite side. No one knows the exact number who perished here.

We visited two camps set up in local schools. Although most of the schools in the country have re-opened, there is no alternative accomodation provided for these pupils, and the school will remain shut until they re-housed and the school is cleaned.

The MP for the area was on the premises and people were pouring out their grievances.

Families rest in a Sri Lanka school
Families rest in a Sri Lanka school

They were told that they were being shifted to a warehouse made of tin corrugated sheeting. Toilet facilities were not provided. The temperature inside at midday would be unbearable.

The health department arrived to fumigate the school while we were there.

Those being housed include : 426 families - of which more than 400 are fisherfolk; 510 women; 681 men; 16 pregnant women; 17 infants.

They were okay for food, but needed clothing and household items, such as buckets, utensils, mats, First Aid equipment and baby food.

A pregnant woman due in a week was asking for things for the delivery. We arranged with the Young Women's Christian Association deputy president of the area to supply these.

A fisherman came to talk to us. He clung onto a branch and survived. His wife and two daughters were swept away. Their bodies have not been found. He has other family members but says he does not want to live without his wife and two children.

He had spent extra on these children by providing private tuition, so they would have a good start in life and cannot cope with the fact they are no more. We saw him later still tearful .

There are local people being trained as trauma counsellors. I can only hope someone gets to him soon.

The next school we visited used to be a upmarket Catholic school run by the Jesuit brotherhood. The place is very neglected now.

There were 2,475 people in all : 783 families; 1,248 men over 18; 700 women over 18; 341 males under 18; 346 females under 18.

This camp were told they are being moved out as well to the warehouse.

The warehouse belongs to the medical college and they have released it only for a month as they have to start work there soon or else lose a grant which would support 5 medical students. The TRO were not to be seen.

Both camps were dirty and the people were poorly-clothed as well. The school will need a lot of cleaning before they can start the new year.

We drove around the town, which has not changed since my childhood many moons ago, then we went back to the children┐s home.

There were refugees calling from the camp with various requests. They all left with arms full of household goods - pots and pans, some provisions - to start some semblance of family life.

One lady said her husband was a carpenter and needed tools to get back on his feet again. Another couple said they needed welding equipment.

I had a discussion with the Dutch guy and agreed that if he funded these two with the necessary tools, I would place an order for coconut scrapers, which should get them on their way. People kept calling all the time.

After an early supper, it was bedtime to make up for the lost sleep the night before.

Daisy Lowe has now returned to south Wales.

Sri Lanka Relief log: 31 December
02 Jan 05 |  Mid Wales


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