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Last Updated: Saturday, 1 January, 2005, 23:57 GMT
Long wait for help in east Sri Lanka
By Ethirajan Anbarasan
BBC Tamil Service

Displaced people in southern Sri Lanka queue for aid supplies
Floods have provided an extra obstacle to aid distribution
The picturesque, eastern Sri Lankan coastal region of Amparai district was directly in the path of 26 December's tsunami - and reportedly took the country's first blow from the ferocious waves.

There was massive loss of life and property in the Muslim-dominated district. More than 10,000 people are reportedly dead or missing.

As elsewhere in the country, bodies are still being recovered from beaches and bushes and there is no accurate toll of how many have died in the disaster.

With the country's overall death count nearing 30,000, Amparai's loss is significant in terms of its size and population.

Nature's fury has also left more than 200,000 people homeless and seeking shelter in various relief centres.

But locals say that unlike the tourist town of Galle and other areas in the south, Amparai has not received the attention of either the international media or the aid agencies.

Tsunami toll

Some residents have horrific stories to tell. Others are too stunned by the horror to talk.

One Muslim woman from Sammanthurai cried about the loss of 22 members of her family. Another inconsolable mother said all her eight children were killed by the gushing sea water.

Unfortunately, the reporters are just only reporting from Galle, but the other parts are being ignored even by the government
Dearan, London, UK

The power of the waves was awesome. Fishing hamlets did not stand a chance in front of the mighty waves. They wiped out everything within a kilometre (1,000 yards) of the coast.

In the coastal town of Ninthavur, an Islamic madrasa (religious school) bore the brunt with nearly 42 children killed by the tsunami waves.

In addition, local journalists say nearly 90% of the fishing boats and fishing equipment in the district were either damaged or swept into the sea.

The casualty figures were high in proportion to the population - mainly due to the high population density, especially among the Muslim community.

To add to the tragedy, the region is now battered with seasonal rains and floods, hampering relief efforts.

"Even three days after the tragedy we couldn't see the government machinery in action. But people from other parts of the country have come to our rescue," IM Ibrahim, secretary of the federation of Amparai district mosques, told the BBC.

Unable to cope with the magnitude of the tragedy, local mosque officials have had to bury hundreds of bodies in mass graves.

The region, which has sizeable Muslim, Sinhala and Tamil populations, is known for its ethnic tensions. But people from all races and ethnicities have rallied together in providing help to those affected.

"It was unusual to see Sinhalas bringing food for the Tamils and the Tamils providing food to the Muslims," says Mr Ibrahim.

Overlooked?

As in other parts of the country, government relief efforts are yet to pick up momentum - a source of local anger.

Only after the visit of President Chandrika Kumaratunga and opposition leader Ranil Wickramasinghe did the relief effort pick up, locals say.

Tsunami victims walk in the flooded streets due to heavy rains in the village of Ariampadi, eastern Sri Lanka
Eastern Sri Lankans complain they are being neglected
The worst affected areas of the district are Sainthamaruthu, Maruthamunai, Ninravoor, Akkaraipattu, Kalmunai and Karativu - all close to the sea.

Locals also fear that if there is not enough media attention they might lose out on aid from the government as well as the international agencies.

"The government has yet to gear up to full swing. We get help from other districts but officials are yet to respond," says Faizal Cassim, a lawmaker from the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress.

But senior government official Asanka Abeyawardena says there is no shortage of relief supplies and immediate humanitarian help is being provided with the utmost urgency.

While politicians and the government officials wrangle over what relief effort is required, Amparai residents fear if their story remains untold they will face another tragedy - no help to rebuild their shattered lives.



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