Buddhist Compassion Relief Tzu Chi Foundation

Jul 07th
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Strength to Stand Again - A Pure Country

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Article Index
Strength to Stand Again
A Place To Go To
Shore Of Suffering
A Pure Country
Circle Of Love
Living With Pain
All Pages
The air was filled with death in a town that had nothing left to live for. Crows flew low, and on this day, one week after the tsunami, people began digging. 

One week after the disaster, people started to appear on the land. A factory by a salt pan seemed to be working again.

The extent to which the tsunami had ravaged Hambantota was visible everywhere. The Sunday Market was a ruin, houses were crumbled into piles of rubble, trees were uprooted, a communication tower was twisted with the warped shape of a car still jammed inside it, piles of torn clothing hung in the trees, and tree roots, bricks, and cars lay upturned in the lagoon.

The air was filled with the overwhelming stench of death in a town that had nothing left to live for. Crows flew low in the sky and stirred up piles of dust. It was on this day that people began digging.

Five thousand volunteers, including the Relief Service Force, traveled over 100 kilometers (62 miles) from Ratnapura to remove rubble with hands or shovels. The Relief Service Force members explained that most people had been committed to rescuing survivors and distributing relief supplies, which meant that there weren't enough people to clean up the disaster areas. This was why they had volunteered to help with the cleanup work. At the same time, they were also trying to locate bodies.

Before the disaster, Hambantota District had had a population of 520,000. Half a month later, the local government estimated that over 1,900 people had died in the tsunami and over 1,100 were still missing.

The tidal wave had dragged many people and houses into the sea. The estimated death count included the bodies which had been washed back to shore and found on the beach. No one knew how many were still at the bottom of the sea or buried under rubble.

When excavating began, the terrible reality began to surface. Body after body was dug out from under the rubble. For sanitation reasons, bodies had to be buried immediately at a nearby location. It was a terrible sight to witness survivors searching among the piles of corpses, attempting to find their deceased family members. Worse still was the unbearable sadness that they had to endure when the deceased were buried before being recognized.

The team's interpreter, Sujeevan Arulampalam, sighed with a terrible sense of remorse when he looked out over the sea. The Sunday Market had been a popular weekly event that brought families and friends together for both business and social reasons. When the disaster happened, there were around 5,000 people in the market. Arulampalam was confused as to how he should interpret that number. "I don't know if I should say that it was fortunate timing or not, because if the tsunami had happened at 10 or 11 a.m., then there would have been even more people in the market."

After the tsunami, Hambantota was nothing more than a ghost town. Arulampalam said, with great sadness in his voice, "The devastating destruction that happened in 20 minutes will take us at least 20 years to recover from."