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Last Updated: Sunday, 26 December, 2004, 06:52 GMT
Eyewitness: Sri Lanka tsunami
Roland Buerk
By Roland Buerk
BBC News, Sri Lanka

People walk through debris of their houses destroyed in tidal waves  in Colombo, Sri Lanka
There are no emergency services for survivors to rely on at the moment

I'm in a town called Unawatuna, which is on the south coast of Sri Lanka.

We didn't feel the earthquake here so there was no warning at all.

Then at about 1000 this morning our time a huge wave suddenly hit the beach.

We were still in bed in a ground floor room right on the beachfront when we suddenly heard some shouts from outside.

We were swept along for a few hundred metres, trying to dodge the motorcycles, refrigerators, cars and other debris that were coming with us

Then the water started coming under the door. Within a few seconds it was touching the window.

We very quickly scrambled to get out as the windows started to cave in and glass shattered everywhere.

We swam out of the room neck deep in water, forcing our way through the tables and chairs in the restaurant and up into a tree.

But within about 30 seconds that tree collapsed as well and we were thrust back into the water where we had to try and keep our heads above the water line.


We were swept along for a few hundred metres, trying to dodge the motorcycles, refrigerators, cars and other debris that were coming with us.

Finally, about 300m inshore, we managed to get hold of a pillar, which we held onto until the waters just gradually began to subside.

Little help

Other people though weren't so lucky.

One elderly British gentleman was walking around in a state of shock. His wife had been swimming when the waves struck.

And a family has just walked past carrying a very small bundle with pale white feet poking out the bottom of it.

As they walked past, the teenage son, wearing an England football shirt said in a very matter of fact way "My brother is dead".

Looking around it's easy to see that this has caused incredible devastation here. There are cars in trees, buildings destroyed.

Map of Sri Lanka, showing location of Unawatuna
But it is impossible really to get an accurate picture of the number of casualties from where I am.

I haven't looked around a great deal yet, and I certainly haven't been inside the ruins of the hotel or other buildings, or joined in the digging.

But in one small area of one small village I have seen four bodies so far, including two Sri Lankans - an elderly lady and a young woman - and the Western boy who looked to be about five years old.

There are no kind of emergency services here, there are no helicopters thumping through the sky to come to save people.

It is a do-it-yourself rescue.

People are trying to go through the buildings and rescue those who might be trapped.

A call went round for a doctor... but there are no doctors here
Most people have gone up onto higher ground, fearful of another tidal wave - rumours are that another one might be coming and people are trying to get up onto the hills.

There are no real medical services here either at the moment.

A call went round about 15 minutes ago for a doctor because a man's pulse was getting weaker and weaker but there are no doctors here.

I think the death toll is likely to rise quite sharply as rescuers start to arrive, and bodies begin to be dug out.

Listen to Roland Buerk's account in full


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