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Last Updated: Wednesday, 12 January, 2005, 13:03 GMT
A village still waiting for help

By Frances Harrison
BBC News, Theerthakarai village, northern Sri Lanka

There is no clean up operation here.

Waterlogged photograph
Some photos found among the debris cannot be identified
It still smells bad and it is possible dead animals or even dead humans remain in the rubble after the tsunami of 26 December.

It is going to take months to clear the land along the coast line.

"When we returned from the sea we saw the total devastation here and we couldn't believe it," says fisherman Anthony Jeyaraja. He was returning from catching prawns when the tsunami struck.

Somehow he survived the waves but lost his bearings when coming back to land at the wrong point on the beach.

"On the second day I found my wife in a camp and only on the third day I found my children somewhere else," he says adding that all he had to wear when he landed was a pair of shorts.

His was one of the few fishing boats out at sea that was not destroyed.

Swept in

The village of 215 families where he lives had a total of 35 boats - and all were destroyed.

Clean up operation in the north of Sri Lanka
Even now bodies are still being found

Scattered around is a lady's handbag, a children's sandal and the odd photograph album.

A couple of villagers study the few photos that are not destroyed and decide that the album must have been swept in from Mullaitivu Town three kilometres north as they do not recognise any of the people.

Then Selvadurai comes along with a cat in a straw shopping basket that he is hugging like a baby.

The cat is called Mani and was hiding under a tree and recognised its owner. It starts licking his neck.

"I am very fond of it," he says.

Fear of the sea

I go down to the sea - it is deserted.

Several kilometres of golden beach with palm trees - a stunning sight.

Selvadurai and Mani the cat
Both villager and cat survived against the odds

It feels slightly like fraternising with the enemy to put my feet in the water that wrought such terrible havoc on the land here.

"We were watching you going down in the sea," said 42-year-old Selamuttu later when I met her on the road with her husband and child.

"We can't go because we are frightened," she says.

"When the wave came it was the height of a house and it was very dreadful to see."

At first she thought she had lost her seven year old son - then he was found hanging on to a tree.

Theerthakarai was a fishing village where few had cement houses. They lived in palm shacks.

Not even the timber of the huts is left because it was used to burn the corpses.

Rubbish in the water

It is only when you are back on the main road to Mullaitivu that you see signs of the clean-up operation.

Groups of villagers from the refugee camps have been organised by the Tamil Tiger rebels to clear the mess.

Wearing face masks and pink rubber gloves they sift through the rubbish - shrubs, bits of palm trees, suitcases, fishing nets and clothes and then burn them.

When we returned from the sea we saw the total devastation here and we couldn't believe it
Fisherman Anthony Jeyaraja

Sometimes they find bodies under the rubbish in the water which float to the surface once the wreckage weighing them down is removed.

The areas being cleared first are those thought to be the greatest risk to public health.

The Tigers complain they need more heavy vehicles to move the rubble.

They say they have 10 excavators and bulldozers and three more on loan from a humanitarian de-mining organisation.

They need double that number if not more.

At this rate it is going to take six months just to clear the land in Mullaitivu let alone begin any reconstruction effort.

"We have the manpower - only the machinery we lack," says Sivnadiyar the head of the Joint Task force distributing all aid in Mullaitivu.

He says they haven't received any machinery or vehicles from the central government yet.


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