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Last Updated: Wednesday, 29 December, 2004, 21:11 GMT
'I said my goodbyes underwater'
Mark Kennedy
Mark Kennedy was trapped underwater after his hut collapsed
Britons arriving at Gatwick from Sri Lanka have told extraordinary stories of survival after Sunday's disaster.

A sombre atmosphere hung over the airport as survivors, some with blankets around them, were greeted by pockets of relatives and friends on Wednesday.

Mark Kennedy, 43, who had "said his goodbyes" while trapped underwater was among those on a specially-chartered Thomas Cook flight from Colombo.

A couple caught up in the disaster days after marrying also returned home.

Mr Kennedy, a computer programmer from Bath, Somerset, told BBC News he had been reading a book in his cabana hut on the beach in Aragon Bay on Sunday morning when he saw water coming underneath the door.

He said: "The door was suddenly pushed inwards by the force of water and I ran into the shower area at the back of the cabana.

"But the building collapsed, trapping me underwater. I am not sure how long I was under there for, maybe about 30 seconds."

'Determined to live'

Mr Kennedy, who had bandages covering his injuries, said he did not think he would survive.

He said: "I said my goodbyes. But somehow my head popped up to the surface. I was determined to live after that".

"I found myself in a raging torrent of water. But after a while I realised palm trees were holding back the bulk of the water. "

He clung onto a tree until the water receded to reveal a scene of devastation.

He had visited the area 12 years earlier and loved it so much he had returned alone "for a relaxing holiday".

Mr Kennedy, who said he suffered "mainly cuts and bruises", was rescued by a Sri Lankan army helicopter.

Honeymoon couple

Keith and Frances Lister, from Rickmansworth, Hertfordshire, had married at the Sri Lankan resort of Tangerine Beach days before the earthquake struck.

Keith and Frances Lister
Keith and Frances Lister were on thier honeymoon

They were just settling down to breakfast at their hotel when beach workers shouted for them to run.

Mr Lister, 39, a builder, said there was suddenly "a huge surge of water".

He said: "Everyone just ran back to the hotel to get to higher ground. It was absolutely terrifying.

"The water just got deeper and deeper. It just kept on rising.

We managed to get to the third floor of the hotel but people on the first floor were trapped as the water reached ceiling height."

We were between two trees and just hung on for dear life as the water came in
Tracy Kempson

Jon Kempson, 40, was on holiday with his wife and teenage children near Mirissa when the disaster struck.

He saw from the beach the waves were "getting slightly bigger".

"But then a big wave came right in and was knocking over tables and chairs in the courtyard.

"My wife and daughter were just washed into the road but we were trapped in the courtyard."

Mr Kempson and his 18-year-old son Michael saved the life of an elderly hotel cook.

"We managed to pull her up some concrete steps with us, " he said.

His wife Tracy and daughter Natalie, 15, had been swept "about 200 yards away".

'Hung on for dear life'

Mrs Kempson said they had been "neck high" in water, which was too turbulent to swim in.

"We were between two trees and just hung on for dear life as the water came in", she said.

Mr Kempson said after the water receded he ran up and down the road shouting for his wife and eventually the family were reunited.

He and son Michael both arrived at Gatwick with heavily bandaged feet.

Mr Kempson said at least one of his bones was broken and one cut had become badly infected.

He said a woman staying in the cabana next to theirs had been killed in the disaster.

Day trip

Another British couple, Sandra and Colin Crane believe the disaster struck their hotel in Kaluthara "just minutes" after they had left for a day trip to the southern town of Galle.

Mrs Crane said they had seen lots of local people were running and signalling for them to turn round in their coach.

"There were lots of refugees everywhere, it looked like a war," she said.

Mr Crane said: "We were told we would be taken back to the hotel for safety, and saw lots of people running. But we didn't know what was going on".

He said they saw horrible scenes, including two men carrying a dead baby.

"It felt surreal. It just didn't seem real," he said.

It took several hours to return to the hotel, which had been hit by the disaster, with water reaching the first floor.

Mrs Crane, who lives in Hemel Hempstead, said no guests at their hotel had been killed.

She said: "The local people were wonderful to us. But all these people they lost everything, families, homes and jobs".



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