Sri Lanka's surf paradise, Arugam Bay offers only rubble and mass
graves after the tsunami
Lost to the sea
By Kavan Ratnatunga
Arugam Bay on the south-east coast
of Lanka is surf paradise. Many travel there directly from the airport
ignoring the country’smany other attractions. In the aftermath
of the tsunami, on December 30, I joined Lt.Col. Anil Amerasekara,
Daya Fernando who had a beach house in Arugam Bay and Lalith Karunaratna
who is an engineer from Sony in Dubai to deliver relief aid from
the Thawalama organisation to Pottuvil and Arugam Bay.
south to Lahugala, we passed many aid trucks on the road each with
a large white banner in front proclaiming the name of the organization.
An idea probably started by aid sent by one TV station and copied
by many. I was glad our vehicle had no banner, there was no need
for self-publicity at this time. Lahugala near the STF camp was
crammed with trucks. There were far more items than could be stored
for distribution to the victims. All possible rooms which had any
storage space were piled to the ceiling. One needed to "know
someone" to get any aid stored under cover. Dry rations unloaded
next to the road were soaking in the rain for lack of covered space.
dropped off all of the relief supplies at the local administration
office at Lahugala which agreed to distribute them to the tsunami
victims when needed over the next few weeks.
east to Pottuvil, we passed beautiful green paddy-fields and then
saw the Pottuvil to Arugam Bay bridge in the distant horizon. Half
of the bridge had been washed away and the other half stood ending
in midair. The surroundings abruptly changed to a barren land washed
away by the tsunami.The town was a huge mess, though in the process
of being cleaned. Earth moving plows were hard at work. All of the
shops near the coast had been washed away leaving empty shells.
The dead had been buried in mass graves. We were told that some
of the foreigners had been photographed before burial and sites
recorded, but I suspect this was not done systematically.
was amazing to see the Buddha statue next to the bridge absolutely
undamaged. Even the plate glass in front of it and the Bodhi tree
near it were unscathed, even though there was much destruction to
the Pottuvil village behind it and the distant half of the large
bridge was completely destroyed and washed away.
went by boat under the bridge and across the causeway, to get to
Arugam Bay. Walking onto devastated land was an eerie feeling. The
residents had all left leaving a ghost town behind. A stray dog
was looking for lunch. Items that had floated in had landed in unexpected
places. There were beds from guest-houses next to smashed up cars
we came up to a large sign which read "Tsunami Beach Hotel
Restaurant" below a painted tidal wave. We had clearly reached
surf paradise, but sadly it had been an untimely death for many
from surfing a tsunami.
Bank of Ceylon next to the Pizzeria, Bier Garten and Internet Café
were reminders of the rich international culture in Arugam Bay.
A laptop could be seen open on the ground where the receding wave
had left it. An album of photographs showed glimpses of a happier
about a two km walk in the light rain through the devastated land
we reached Daya's partly destroyed beach house. The front door and
half the kitchen had been washed away. The first wave had struck
about 9 a.m. and the second which was much stronger soon after.
It had gone over the electricity posts which are probably around
25 feet high. The two caretakers had luckily lived through the ordeal
with the tourists who had been in residence. They were able to swim
as a small group and ride out the wave.
told the story of the night before the tsunami when an wild elephant
had come to the back of the hotel and refused to go away, even when
chased. The caretakers are now convinced the elephant was trying
to warn them of the tsunami.