26th of December 2004. Boxing Day; A full moon poya day; the darkest day of modern Sri Lankan history; the day tens of thousands of people in Sri Lanka lost their lives to a sea that had gone crazy! The day, that I had a narrow escape from the deadly tides; the day I had a brush off with death; the day that I had the deepest feeling of helplessness, the day I felt the fear of DEATH!
I was at a hotel at Hikkaduwa on the southern coast of Sri Lanka, having gone there for the weekend, with my wife, mother, my brother and his wife and her brother. We were planning to leave the hotel after breakfast on Sunday, wanting to pay some of our relatives a visit too.
Me and my love were already late for breakfast on Sunday, the others had already started eating by the time we joined them. We served ourselves some food and went and joined the others. Midway through I wanted to go and serve myself a fruit punch and got up to go. Lush also joined me cos she also wanted to go get something. It was around 9.15 am.
Then we heard a "Look" and a "Wow" and people were all looking outside of the restaurant. Following their gazes we also looked outside. The garden of the hotel was being kissed by a large wave from the sea. I thought "Wow! A big wave!". And I was turning around to show it to my mother and glazed through the far end of the restaurant that was facing the sea. And boy was it a sight to sea! The tide had risen and the waves were splashing onto the glass windows. They were crashing in with ferocious force. Just then I realized that the windows were a good 8 feet above the normal sea level and these waves were no high tide.
They were high all right. But they were crazy. Something was definitely wrong! The sea has gone crazy and was trying to drown us in it! By this time, water was leaking into the restaurant, and everybody panicked and started to run out. I grabbed Lush's hand and shouted to others to run. Somebody yelled to run out of the building. And everybody ran toward the reception to get out. By this time water was flowing into the reception area as well.
Coming to the entrance we saw people running into the building and looking outside, we got the second shock. The road in front was flooded. Sea was running down the road splashing waves. A boat was flowing and it flew over the gate of the hotel and flowed in to the car park.
Then everybody turned back and ran toward the stairs. To make matters worse, the staircase was a spiral staircase, forcing people to climb up one after the other. By this time there was no electricity, rendering the elevators useless and also putting the staircase also in darkness. Somehow we all managed to get to the first flow without stampeding on anyone. My mother fell on the stairs but the people behind her helped her to get up and helped her climb the rest of the steps.
On the first flow we were watching the waves evading the ground and washing everything within its reach with shock and dismay! The waves were running through the land as if it was chasing its worst enemy. And people were running away from the waves to save their lives. But the waves, in more instances than not, beat the humans and sucked them into its wrath!
The waves descended to the sea with a force that seemed even mightier than the force with which it hit the sea. And whatever that was flowing in it, be it humans or objects were all dragged on to the sea. Those who were lucky and had the strength held on to what ever that reached their palms to save their lives. Those who could not, perished in to the sea. The force with which that people were dragged (the waves were said to have hit at a speed of 700 km/h), bruised and broke limbs of those who got caught!
The worst part was having to watch all of this, helpless, not being able to do anything to save them, feeling powerless against the ravaging sea!
When the first wave died down, receding back to the sea, carrying the sea several miles along with it, everybody ran amok, trying to save those who were hanging on to their lives from trees and buildings and some even on the coral reefs that had surfaced up by now! They reached up to those who were within reach and carried them to higher grounds and tried their level best to breathe life back in to them. And the good new was these efforts paid off in most cases. People were running around trying to asses the damage and trying to help out in whatever way they could. Consoling others, clearing debris, running around with first aid!
There were a few stranded in the hotel basement and they were crying for help. They were also rescued, with the help of the staff, guests and life guards. There were cars piled on top of one another. Damaged and submerged in water. There was a van resting on a structure which was around 10 feet in height as if it was lifted up and kept there! But luckily, the cars in the front car park were safe.
The sea started to rise again as if it could not stand these acts of humanity to wards our fellow humans. The water level as rising, and since the level had fallen below the normal sea level, everybody was hoping the rising would stop once it reaches the normal level. But it was not so, it kept on rising and then again, the ferocious waves started to batter the coast. The tide was flowing in to the country. This time around the waves were even more ferocious; meaner and harder.
It was flowing in with such a force, what ever that was left standing after the first wave seemed to be falling for this second wave. We were all scared for our lives. Smaller buildings that were left standing fell one after the other and drowned in the tide! We were scared about the ability of the building we were in, to withstand this attack.
This time the waves filled up the car park in front as well. The cars started to float and knock on one another. The owners watching with dismay. Not because they were possessive about their cars, but because they were losing their means of getting out of their; their means of going inland, away from the sea that had gone mad!
This time around people watched helplessly as fellow humans fought helplessly with the killer waves and perished in to the heartless sea.
After the second wave which was worse than the first, there were several more. But they were relatively smaller and weaker. There was nothing much left for these later waves to wash away, as the first two had washed away whatever it could that was standing in its way! These other waves were more or less scares which hampered any efforts to save those who have been dragged on to the sea!
Little by little the tides receded. But it still kept coming back till about 3.30 pm. Had kept people fearing for their lives for more than 6 hours. Then, those who could started to leave the hotel premises for higher ground. Everybody wanted to move further away from the sea as much as possible. Everybody was tired of seeing the sea. They wanted to get away from it. Any place where the sea was not in sight would have been fine!
Wednesday, December 29, 2004
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Seems like the tsunami did make you several years older.
Any way , the most important thing is all of you are safe.
You have been lucky.
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