Six months have gone by since the tsunami, but memories of what happened on Dec. 26, 2004, are still very fresh and raw here.
The mention of the word "tsunami" can send a shockwave of fear through the normally quiet town of Weligama. Some Weligama citizens still look at the sea as if the killer wave will return at any moment and take away everything they own.
The most recent tsunami scare happened a couple of weeks ago. A school child had been killed in a traffic accident. When she heard the news, the child's mother ran along the beach and then the main road, sobbing and crying. Some bystanders ran after, not knowing why she was crying. More and more people joined the run, spreading a wave of panic and fear through the town of Weligama.
I went to talk to Dr. Enoka Wickramasinghe, the medical officer for mental health in the Weligama district hospital. I thought that she could tell me more about the current mental state of residents.
Tsunami victims go through three mental stages, she said. The first is denial, which occurred as soon as the tsunami happened. The second is grieving , as people accept reality. The third and final stage is a return to normality.
According to Dr. Enoka, tsunami scares have had the effect of causing tsunami victims here to go back to stages one and two -- they have been "retraumatized." In particular, the tsunami scare of March 28, caused by another earthquake in Indonesia, means that it will "take another six months" before people go back to normal again.
Some 10 percent of the population, she added, never left the first stage after the tsunami and are in need of psychological attention.
-- Sascha Gerbracht