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Last Updated: Sunday, 26 December, 2004, 19:30 GMT
Sri Lanka searches for survivors
Flooding in Maddampegama, about 60km (38 miles) south of Colombo
Waves crash into Maddampegama, 60km south of Colombo
A long stretch of Sri Lanka's coast has been devastated by Sunday's tidal waves, with more than 3,500 dead and up to a million displaced.

The government said a "huge tragedy is unfolding". It declared a national disaster and called for foreign aid.

Although 1,600km from the epicentre, the waves struck with huge force and swept inland as far as two kilometres.

A massive search and rescue operation is underway along the southern and eastern coasts for survivors.

Landmines from the civil war have been dislodged and several mine-related accidents reported.

The BBC's Gena Wilkinson in Sri Lanka says about 15,000 military personnel and police have been deployed to cope with the disaster.

It is a huge tragedy and it is unfolding all the time. The death toll is going up all the time
Lalith Weerathunga,
Prime minister's secretary

Military spokesman, Brigadier Daya Ratnayake, said half the eastern fleet was looking for survivors.

Lalith Weeratunga, secretary to Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapakse, said: "We are getting reports from the main towns, but there are still areas which have been cut off.

"The prime minister has gone by helicopter to some of the areas which have been cut off. The devastation is massive. It is unprecedented."

President returns

Curfews have been imposed in some areas to prevent looting.

Waves as high as six metres had crashed into coastal villages, sweeping away people and cars.

In Trincomalee in the north-east, the waves swept inland as far as two kilometres. Police in the Trincomalee and Muttar districts described the situation as "tragic" and said some hospitals could not cope with the wounded.

President Chandrika Kumaratunga cut short her holiday in Britain to return to the island and India has sent five warships to Sri Lanka to deliver aid.

Harim Peiris, a Sri Lankan presidential spokesman, said landmines from the country's war with Tamil Tiger rebels had been dislodged, hampering rescue efforts and causing several accidents.

The leader of the Tamil Tigers' political wing, SP Thamilselvan, told TamilNet - a pro-rebel web site - that the organisation had recovered 800 bodies so far in its region.

Contaminated water

About 2,000 foreign tourists were being bussed north from southern resort villages to the capital, Colombo. Our correspondent, Gena Wilkinson, says at least 15 foreigners are still missing.

There were rows of women and men standing on the road and asking if anyone has seen their family members
Gemunu Amarasinghe,
photographer

Chandana Wickremaratne, the police chief in Matara, 60km (100 miles) from Colombo, said: "Hundreds of people were at the weekly Sunday fair when massive waves came in and washed away people. We don't know what happened to them."

Mr Wickremaratne said there was a huge drinking water problem as sea water had contaminated supplies.

Devastation in Lunawa, Sri Lanka
A massive search and rescue operation is under way

Travelling to an affected area south of Colombo, Associated Press photographer Gemunu Amarasinghe said: "I counted 24 bodies in a stretch of only 6km. I saw bodies of children entangled in wire mesh.

There were rows of women and men standing on the road and asking if anyone has seen their family members."

Sections of the railway from the south to Colombo were a tangle of metal or had been swept away.

Despite curfews in some areas, some looting was reported.

The manager of the Tangerine Beach Hotel, 40km south of Colombo, said there was a "free for all", with looters taking televisions and furniture.

Other reports from areas around the coast:

  • About 300 prisoners took advantage of the chaos to escape from a high security jail in Matara

  • Flash flooding struck low-lying areas of Colombo and at least one ship was listing in Colombo Bay

  • The naval base at Trincomalee was reported to be underwater.


BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
Sri Lanka's president responds to the tragedy



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