Arrived 5 days ago in Kallar, a small community on the east coast of Sri Lanka. Nearing our destination, we travelled along a road running parallel to the coast, about a kilometre or so in from the sea, thronging with people and traffic, buildings packed along both sides. There was little evidence to suggest what had happened, aside from thousands of white ribbons tied onto wire zig-zagging across the road from the telephone wires overhead. Every now and then, though, you would glimpse a rough hand written sign in English saying “refugee camp” and pointing up a narrow road towards the sea. Eleven hours after leaving the west coast, we finally turned into one of these narrow roads and headed towards the coast.
Still, no sign of any damage, as we bumped along the narrow, pot-holed road. We reached the local YMCA without seeing anything. After dropping off our gear and saying hellos to the various people already here, we head off further down the road, towards a small rise that hides our view to the ocean beyond. As we reach this rise, for the first time I see the devastation that occurred on Boxing Day.
The sand is bone dry underfoot, the sun is shining, and there is sound of children’s laughter carried on the gentle sea breeze. To the right is a small hospital building, which at first glance seems untouched. Closer inspection though, reveals a faint but clearly discernable water mark, and a number of wooden door frames ajar from the main brickwork. Now looking past the hospital, towards the seas some 150m away, the devastation is both apparent and almost complete. Bricks, rubble, broken trees and debris cover open ground once packed tightly, so I am told, with people’s homes. The odd house still standing here and there, and the few more with a remaining wall or two, only emphasise the complete devastation that occurred to the majority of the community within this 150m wide stretch of land.
Looking up and down the coastline, it is like a bulldozer had driven through, flattening everything in its path. I’ve heard that the wave travelled overland at over 100km per hour. I shudder to think of those in the buildings who would have had no warning and no chance to run.
The sun is baking overhead as I move further towards the sea. The roads and pathways here have generally been cleared of debris now, something that has only happened in the last couple of weeks according to those who were here 3 weeks ago. Many of the plots are piled high with the remains of each building.