Fear of Another Tsunami
We got the news around 11 o'clock in the evening. It spread like wildfire.
The radio reported that an earthquake measuring 8.2 on the Richter scale had happened near Sumatra. The president of Sri Lanka warned of an "impending disaster" and ordered all coastal residents to evacuate to higher ground, at least 2 kilometers away from the coast.
In Weligama, all hell broke loose. People took all they could carry and ran inland, seeking refuge in temples. Belgian soldiers drove along the main road shouting, "Tsunami coming!" and telling people to move to higher ground. By the time the Sri Lankan police showed up to warn of the danger, most residents had already fled to temples and other places far away from the coast.
"As soon as I heard the news, I secured all our things, took my wife and ran as fast as I could to the temple," said Wasantha Abesooriya, a 47-year-old Weligama citizen. His house is located on Main Street, around 150 meters from the sea. When the warning came, he stowed his mattresses, gas cooker and some other possessions between the roof and ceiling, where the water wouldn't reach it. Then he tied the cooker's gas cylinder to his door to keep it from being swept away and left with his wife for the Agrabodhi Temple, around 1 kilometer inland.
Wasantha, who praised the Belgian army's efforts to warn people of the danger, stayed in the temple all night with his wife.
Sriya Abeyweera, a shop owner in her early 40s said that she was horrified by the news. "A neighbor told us about what happened at about 11:30 p.m. We just left everything as it is and ran," she said. Sriya, her 12-year-old son Minon, and the rest of the family left their home on the old Galle road, about 200 meters from the sea, and sought refuge in a house on top of a small hill about 1 kilometer away.
Around midnight, the radio reported that a tsunami could possibly arrive around 1 a.m. This was followed by a report of an aftershock of 6 on the Richter scale, and an advisory from the Sri Lankan government to stay on alert. I kept watching the news and called my friends, giving them updates on the situation.
Finally, at 3:40 a.m. an announcement was made that the danger is over. Relieved, but still terrified, many Weligama residents decided to remain in the temples until dawn.
I was curious about how Chathura Madhushanka and his father dealt with the warning and went to visit them later in the morning in the refugee camp where they have lived since the Dec. 26 tsunami destroyed their home.
As soon as he heard the tsunami warning, Chathura said he grabbed the pictures of his mother, brother and sister, who were killed in the tsunami, and ran with his father a couple of kilometers inland.
"Most of the camp residents climbed on top of the building beside the camp, but we just kept going," said Chathura's father, who felt that they would be better off away from the coastal area than on the roof of a building close to the sea. The fear was still visible in both of their eyes. Like so many Sri Lankans, they didn't sleep all night.
Chathura was still holding the pictures of his mom and siblings. He didn't go to school today. Actually, no one in Weligama did. Students who showed up at the schools were sent home for lack of teachers.
Although the earthquake was felt in some areas of Sri Lanka, no one seems to have felt it in this area, but people remain extremely frightened. Rumors are that about 70 earthquakes happened in the past 12 hours. Some think another tsunami could hit Sri Lanka any minute.
-- Sascha Gerbracht
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