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Last Updated: Tuesday, 28 December, 2004, 19:51 GMT
Eyewitness: Desperation in Galle
By Sanjoy Majumder
BBC News, Galle, southern Sri Lanka

Janaka Wickramasinghe shuffles and sighs wearily as he contemplates the queue in front of him.

Damage to a sari shop in Galle (photo: Sanjoy Majumder)
Galle's main shopping district is in disarray
He has been waiting for more than an hour to fill up a jerry can of petrol in the only functioning petrol station in the Sri Lankan town of Galle.

The port town on the southern tip of Sri Lanka, some 120km (75 miles) south of the capital, Colombo, was among the worst hit during Sunday's sea surge.

Three days later, the scars remain, but newer problems begin to surface.

"Everything is destroyed. People are very nervous about impending shortages, which is why you see scenes such as this," Mr Wickramasinghe says, looking at the crowd gathered around the petrol station.

"I decided against driving here, because I want to conserve the little fuel that my car already has."

Local aid

But across town, the situation is decidedly more grim.

Impromptu lines of people gather as a small truck pulls up and coconuts, bananas and bottled water are handed out.

Queue at a petrol station in Galle (photo: Sanjoy Majumder)
Fears of shortages have led to long queues
This is not a government vehicle or an international aid agency initiative, but the private effort of a local businessman.

Local organisations and community centres are doing their best to cope, but it simply isn't enough.

A fight breaks out as an old man shouts, then breaks into sobs.

"We are a family of eight," he wails. "Do you think one coconut will feed us?"

Ramaya, a fisherman, shakes his head in frustration.

"My children haven't eaten in three days. We need milk, cereals and water. There is no sign of the government or of any food aid."

Ruined shops

The need for external help is apparent as we approach Main Street in Galle's main shopping district.

Gaping holes have replaced shop windows. Elsewhere, men work frantically to board up their shops, fearing that the little that was left behind may be looted.

A woman, whose father and son are missing, sobs near Galle in Sri Lanka
Many do not know if missing relatives are dead or alive
On the beach road, I am shown a pile of crumbled stone slabs.

"This was the local fish market," says Sumit.

"Last week you would have seen piles of fresh lobster, crab and prawns here. Now there's nothing."

Like other Sri Lankan towns, people have been streaming into Galle from the countryside, hoping to reach relief points and gain access to food and medicines.

But with the main coastal road from Colombo to Galle badly damaged, nothing is getting through.

Rescue work

Off the town's historic harbour, Indian and Sri Lankan naval ships can be seen in the distance.

They have brought some men and materials for the immediate rescue operation.

All day long, helicopters have buzzed overhead, carrying supplies and rescue workers.

Some have been requisitioned to ferry foreign tourists out of Galle, holidaymakers cutting short their Christmas holidays.

With most of the funerals of the victims of Sunday's disaster having taken place, the focus is now on those who survived.

"We are getting close to desperation," warns Sumantha, a local schoolteacher.

"We need help and we need it now."

How aid is merely 'trickling through' in Sri Lanka


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