So, how do either sides of the country compare, I hear you ask. Good question.
The east, as you would imagine, had far greater devastation over a much larger area, as it did get hit directly with the oncoming tsunami. Basically every part of the coast was hit, and depending on the height of the land sometimes for up to a kilometre inland. You’ve seen the photos, so you have some idea of what I mean.
When I first drove down from Colombo on the west coast, I was thinking to myself, so where’s the damage I’ve been hearing about? Even my glimpses of the coast as the road veered that way every now and then revealed no damage that I could see. We even made it all the way to Wonder Bar in Bentota, about a third of the way down to Galle in the south, where we met Keith (and I created my hangover from hell), without any evidence of tsunami damage.
The enxt day we headed further south with Keith, to check out the current sanitation project. This was being built behind a buddhist temple, home to a number of Monks – including a cute little 8 year old, and a cricket playing teenager – along with the current temporay residence of around 20 families whose homes had been destroyed in the tsunami. But I still had not seen any evidence of tsunami damage.
But then we headed further south… and the road veered closer to the coast… and then a few damaged buildings, but nowhere near the scale of devastation as the east. Then we travelled further down and now the road passed right along the coastline. The damage was now apparant, though it was strange… some places showed a great deal of damage, while others just up the road showed none. It was like the flow of the water on this side of the island had not been consistent all the way up the coast.
Then we hit another part of the coast – a small town called Periyala, just north of a fairly major tourist town (where I’m sitting typing now) – and the devestation here was like on the east. Houses simply flattened, a few left standing with crushed walls and everything inside lost. Temporary housing and palm trees dotted the landscape. Small lakes could also be seen around the village, evidence of the two das of torrential rain that had fallen just recently. Mosquito borne diseases would be rampant in the coming weeks.
Another result of the heavy rains? Dead bodies had been found just a few days ago, bodies that had been buried in the first few days after the disaster, just a few feet below ground. The rain had now raised the already high watrer table up to the surface, bringing with it the bodies. There was an Australian nurse working out of a small school building in the town who was going around and doing what she could with the bodies that were “popping up”. She said there were 16 in a building just across the road. I didn’t walk over to check.
We had come here predominately to check out one of the toilet blocks built earlier, and as it happened a new body had been put inside the female block for the nurse to check. Fortunately, before I had known this, I had walked into the MALE side to check out the structure from within. I’m not really sure what my response would have been if the body had been put in that side. A body that had been decomposing in damp ground for three months. No thanks…
So, overall, far more widespread damage in the east, but still much to write home about (as I am) on the west. And the strange anomoly is, the east is getting far more help than the west. I drive through these damaged areas, surrounded by undamaged towns and 4 and 5 star hotels and restaurants, tourists doing their things as per any resort area, and yet the government and major NGOs are virtually non-existant in these areas as I have discovered. All the work that I am hearing about is being done by small NGOs and/or individuals, and as a result though the affected people are surrounded by a fully functioning economic environment, they find themselves without decent shelter, sanitation, food items, or livelihood items, and less likely of recieving these things.
Funny how these things work, huh?