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Sunday, 29 June 2014

Sri Lankan Tsunami: 10 years later - Page 2

Written by Nick Marnell
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Chaminda pointed to a scored mark on the wall of the old fire station, which was two miles from the coast.  He said that the mark recorded the height of the water that day.  The mark stood more than three feet from the ground.


The destruction took less than five minutes. 


"People were running in front of the waves.  Mothers, children. People were floating in the water. I couldn't understand what was happening. What can I do?" said Chaminda, measuring his words, looking skyward, still obviously affected by what he experienced. 


The water receded in 20 minutes, baring all of the tragic evidence. "We had to be strong mentally," said Kumara. It was an unprecedented disaster, and the firefighters at first did not know what to do. They had never trained for something like this. The 24 Galle firefighters rushed into the devastation, without gloves.  Without boots. Without food. 


"Sixteen hours without sleep or food," said Kumara. "We had no time to think about ourselves. We thought only about others."


The first priority was the injured, he said. The small children, the elderly...they had to be removed from the area and put into a safe place. Kumara outlined his game plan in that time of high crisis.


"We had to act quickly, and we got the strong and uninjured to help us.  Plus we had to forget about authority (the Galle Municipal District).  We didn't need them; they had nothing that they could do for us anyway.


"Forget about things.  It's all about people."


With only ropes and axes as tools, the firefighters spent the first hour tending to the injured.  The second hour, they removed bodies and began to clear the roads. But in reality, they spent three to four days collecting bodies in the town. One of the fire engines became a makeshift hearse. 


"All the while, we were concerned that the tsunami may return," said Chaminda. Unconfirmed media reports had been suggesting that there indeed may be a major aftershock.


Death and destruction dominated the firefighters' lives for five days.  But Kumara did share an uplifting experience, few and far between during the final week of 2004.


"It was a four-year old boy," he said. "The boy fell into a hole, maybe three meters deep.  His mother had been washed away, gone, disappeared.  His father was stuck in a tree, 15 meters away. I used my rope and I pulled the young boy safely out of the hole. 


"It really affected me, because I had a child the same age."

(Page 2 of 3)
Last modified on Monday, 30 June 2014

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