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Strength to Stand Again

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On December 26, 2004, the strongest earthquake in 40 years struck the Indian Ocean. It set off a series of lethal tsunamis which churned over the sea at a speed of 800 kilometers (500 miles) per hour. Sri Lanka is at least 1,000 miles away from the epicenter of the earthquake, but it still became the second most heavily damaged country after Indonesia.

"Allah gave me everything, and I commend everything to Allah." Despite the environmental devastation that has torn apart their land, the Sri Lankan people have found comfort and strength in the religious beliefs that shape their culture. They have found the power to rise up again and rebuild their lives, searching out new ways in which to rediscover the original abundance and richness of life.

Hambantota is a long, narrow city located on the southern coast of Sri Lanka. To one side is a spectacular view of the Indian Ocean and to the other side is a salt-water lagoon. A scattering of tourist villas were once dotted along the beachfront area leading up to the famous Yala National Park. Hambantota's reputation as a renowned holiday haven was growing because of its close proximity to both the beach and the park, which resulted in a steady increase of tourist visitors each year. Holidaymakers could enjoy the best of both worlds, either choosing between the long stretches of pristine beach or alternatively venturing into the wild terrain of the park.

Every Sunday, farmers and fishermen from the surrounding areas would travel to Hambantota to sell their produce at the market. Gradually, the Sunday Market, which had begun as a small collection of sellers, became the busiest meeting place of the week. Villagers came from near and far to attend.

December 26, 2004, was the first Sunday after Christmas. As the sun began to raise its head sleepily over the land, the people of Hambantota also began to wake up and greet the day.

The news about the opening of a new hot-meal shop in the Sunday Market had aroused the interest of many local shoppers and by 9 a.m. the streets of Hambantota were filled with villagers. Not many people were aware of the strange change in the ocean's behavior.

The originally peaceful sea had begun to recede at a terrifying pace, as suddenly as though the land had frightened her. Soon afterwards a huge tidal wave, with the force of thousands of horses behind it, came stampeding over the busy city, not caring for the lives or property that stood in its way.

Within only 20 minutes, the bustling city was entirely demolished. All the clocks in the city stopped at 9:21. The disaster caught everyone off guard because it happened at the busiest and most productive time of the week. The deceased would never know that the tsunami had been caused by an earthquake in another country.