Last Saturday the Sri Lankan Under-14 girls football team was at a museum near Kathmandu, Nepal, studying the rich history of the city while on a sports tour. Around noon, they experienced the terrible shaking that caused the city to collapse in a matter of minutes. “We ran into the garden of the museum. Everyone [...]


‘Buildings fell like puffs of smoke’

-Lankans describe shock and horror of Nepal quake -Travellers lived for days in the open as tremors continued

One of the young football players worships the ground as the team returns home

Last Saturday the Sri Lankan Under-14 girls football team was at a museum near Kathmandu, Nepal, studying the rich history of the city while on a sports tour.

Around noon, they experienced the terrible shaking that caused the city to collapse in a matter of minutes.

“We ran into the garden of the museum. Everyone was screaming – there was a huge sound. The air was with full of dust when the buildings collapsed. We were really scared,” said one of the girls, Sivanesan

Jegatheeswaran Dinesh

Tharmika from Tellippalai Mahajana College in Jaffna.

“Everyone was screaming and not knowing what to do. Some sat on the ground covering their faces,” she said.

Fortunately, none of the 18 team members and other staff was injured when the massive 7.9 earthquake hit Nepal last Saturday.

The girls were among the 42 Lankans who returned home safe this week with shocking experiences to relate on the aftermath of the quake.

As on a typical Saturday, Nirodh Warasawithane, a medical student at Tribune University, was walking towards his friend’s house in Kathmandu when suddenly he felt the ground shaking.

Relief written all over their faces, the Sri Lankan under-14 girls football team arrives at the BIA. Pix by Amila Gamage and Athula Devapriya

“At the time we did not know what happened. It took us quite some time to realise this was an earthquake,” he said. The buildings crashed and collapsed like puffs of smoke. I ran into my friend’s place in search of safety.”

Mr. Warusawithane decided to volunteer at a nearby hospital where quake victims are being treated.

Aid efforts began quickly, he said. “Ninety per cent of the country’s defence force was mobilised for relief aid. Soldiers were digging into the collapsed homes with bare hands and the dead bodies were handed over to the relations if they were identifiable. The injured ones were later admitted to hospital for further treatments.”

He said the hospitals were overflowing with people.

The hardest hit areas appeared to be Kathmandu’s densely populated suburbs, filled with historic and poorly constructed ‘buildings’ he said.

Harshini Sandamallie

Another member of the girls’ football team, Harshini Sandamallie, said she heard a deep sound from the underground like a train, and everything began to shake.

The team had been eagerly looking forward to taking part in the final tournament in the Asian Football Confederation’s (AFC) Regional Championship.

Team coach Japanese national Jei Homma had previously experienced an earthquake but was shocked by this massive quake.

He had been on his way to watch a match at a stadium in a suburban area of Kathmandu.

Coming home: Returning Lankans

“The people suddenly ran onto the roads from their houses – the situation was like a riot,” Mr. Homma said. “It was tense. Nobody knew what was going on.”

In minutes, the houses disintegrated into bricks lying on the roads, he said.

“Soon after the first earthquake I went straight to the Japanese Embassy and thereafter I reached the Sri Lankan Embassy to see my colleagues and my team. I am glad to be back here ,” he said.

Jegatheeswaran Dinesh, who went to Nepal for a holiday, said he had been sitting in a chair on a third floor of a hotel near Kathmandu when the disaster struck. “We felt a shaking and a rumbling underground and someone started shouting to go outside. We immediately ran out of the hotel.
“When we turned back, we saw the hotel collapsing like a cardboard building. Our belongings were lost.”

All in tears: An emotional moment as a parent of one of the young football players hugs her

Mr. Dinesh said he and his friend, Susaipillai Alantin were then on the streets with only a small amount of money. They had to spend the next few nights in the open as most people had left their homes because of aftershocks.

“We had only noodles for our meals for four days. We had no water. Now, after returning to Sri Lanka we had rice, after a long time, and it feels like we are home,” they said, eating a meal served by the Air Force after their arrival.

They said words could not properly express what they saw and felt.

“The houses were leaning on each other, with cracks and broken windows. The road is full of broken bricks scattered due to the collapsed buildings. There was a bad smell everywhere. Some said it could be the stench from the bodies buried inside or the abandoned ones,” Mr. Dinesh said without blinking an eye while recounting his experiences.

A referee travelling with the girls’ football team, Roshini Karunaratne, described the continuing fear everyone felt even after escaping from the danger of collapsing buildings. “We waited for a long time in the car park because the walls of our hotel were cracked,” she said. “Even there, the car park trembled about 10 times.”

Jei Homma

“We are grateful to the President, the Air Force and the Football Association for bringing back our children without any harm,” said a parent of one of the young football players, Anurananda Samarasinghe.

For the first time in the history of the Air Force an Air Force C130 aircraft was sent for a relief operation overseas.

On its return trip the plane brought back the 42 stranded Sri Lankans.

Lankan travellers undeterredSri Lankans have not drawn back from travelling to Nepal despite the disaster – indeed, some might be going there because of the earthquake.

The owner of a travel company, S. Thabrew said there were no cancellations made after the earthquake in Nepal and more than 35 passengers reserved tickets to head to Nepal after the disaster.

“There is no significant downturn in the number of pilgrim visits from here because Lumbini was not affected by earthquake,” he said.
Pointing out that there were no restrictions despite the warnings given by the Government for tourists travelling to Nepal, the Ticketing Manager of Classic Travels, Murad Mubarak, noticed there was an increase in the number of tourists planning to travel to Nepal to view the devastated places.

Helping hand

The Sri Lankan public extended overwhelming support in response to an appeal by the Government for relief items for the Nepal earthquake victims, a senior Government official said.

Dry food collected at the Disaster Management Centre. Pix by Indika Handuwala

The Nepali Government requested specific items including small and medium-sized tent kits, slippers, bedsheets, drinking water containers and other equipment, Home Affairs Ministry Secretary S.D.A.B. Boralessa said, and collection is continuing.

Ministries functioning under Prime Minster Ranil Wickremesinghe and Finance Minister Ravi Karunayake handed over dry rations, a container of tinned fish, 22,560 kg of apples, 18,600 shoes, 100 rubber boots and a supply of t-shirts to the Acting High Commissioner of Nepal, Ram Singh Thapa, at Temple Trees on Thursday.

Other civil society movements also called upon the public to support the relief programme by donating other goods such as blankets, jackets, slippers and dry rations.

The Disaster Management Centre said it received a good response to appeals with companies donating footwear, jackets and other items.
The Sri Lankan Muslims Forum has set up “Helping Nepal” to collect relief supplies. Blankets, tents, tarpaulin, first aid kits, hygienic kits, sanitary towels and diapers, food items and medical items are needed urgently, the organisation said.

The collection centres are at the Dehiwela Jumma Masjid (Grand Mosque), Kollupitiya Jumma Masjid, the Kalandhar Sahib Masjid in Maradana, the Minan Masjid at Dematagoda, the Kolonnawa Jumma Masjid, the Akber Masjid Slave Island, and the Kesalwatte Jumma Masjid in Pettah.
The relief effort is backed by the All-Ceylon Jamiyyathul Ulama (ACJU) and Colombo District Masjids Federation (CDMF). For more details, call the Helping Nepal’s hotline, 0727 889 966, or T.L.M. Jemseed (0777 394 208) or S.A. Asker Khan (0777 572 935).

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