4th November 2001

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Shattered, stunned

Monday's deadly blast left four dead and many injured. Laila Nasry reports on how life changed in an instant for the victims and their families.

They were ordinary citizens, going about their usual routine that Monday afternoon; picking up children from school, going home for lunch, providing security to top politicos. 

And then it happened. The suicide bomber's deadly blast. 

Once again we are faced with the grim realisation that when we step out of our homes, we may never return to them again. Sadly, the human cost of this mindless war seems lost in the election-obsessed political climate, as a desensitized public prefers to focus on the political shenanigans and cricket scores than the dead and wounded. 

For those unwilling victims and their families of Monday's suicide bomb at Narahenpita, life will never be the same again. The grieving widows, shattered families and stunned survivors struggle to come to terms with their fate. 

Sergeant J.W.T. Ananda of the Narahenpita Traffic Police had the afternoon shift that Monday. "He bought the bread that morning and as usual helped me do the morning chores," his wife Chandrani, a nurse at the Mulleriyawa hospital, remembered. "He generally spends his morning tending to the anthurium plants in the garden or listening to music. I cooked lunch for him because I knew he would have left by the time I got back from work at 2 p.m." 

At 3.45 p.m., the phone rang. It was her son's friend, calling to tell them of a bomb explosion. He told them that Sirasa TV had announced some of the victims to be from the Narahenpita Police. Panicking she had switched on the TV but there was no mention of any names. "Just then I got a call from the OIC of the Borella Police. He said he was coming home and I knew something was terribly wrong." Chandrani dressed quickly thinking she might have to go to hospital but it wasn't necessary. "The OIC told me my husband would be brought home."

Up until Monday, Chandrani had been confident that her husband, working in the City Traffic Police was in a relatively safe job, compared to most of his counterparts. "I never warned him to be careful," she says sadly. The only fear at the back of her mind was that he would once again be transferred to an operational area. He had been in Mannar, Batticaloa and Jaffna before. 

"Normally he doesn't do this sort of work. He is only expected to check the vehicles on the road, apart from his traffic duties. But I was told there were no personnel that day so he was asked to be there," she says sadly. Duty called and Sgt. Ananda answered. 

Bearing the stifling Colombo heat, Police Constable Methsiri Somaratne sits on his hospital bed staring into space. Clad in a blue striped sarong, on his chest is a gauze plaster, testimony of his proximity to Monday's disaster. 

It all happened so fast: PC Methsiri SomaratneIt all happened so fast: PC Methsiri Somaratne

A member of the City Traffic Police patrol team, he was on duty as the Prime Minister was to pass that way. Around 1.30 p.m. a radio message came from Police Headquarters asking them to track down a suspicious looking person, a possible LTTE suicide bomber lurking around Kirula Road. 

"Our Sergeant received the alert and four motorbikes set off immediately." Having circled the entire area once with no success, they were going round the second time when the Sergeant had suddenly stopped at the kerb, near the flats, prompting him to follow suit. 

"I saw a man clad in shorts and I thought he was the bomber." But the Sergeant was shouting at someone across the road, asking him to put his hands up and surrender. "It was then that I spotted the bomber. He came running in between a van and car, his hand on his jacket and jumped in our direction. Then the blast occurred. 

"The Sergeant's pillion rider had cocked his pistol to shoot but it was too late. If only the bomber had run in the other direction we could have shot, but it all happened so fast."

They received the full impact of the bomb, "because the bomber jumped towards us at an angle." The Sergeant died on the spot and his pillion rider lies critically injured in the Intensive Care Unit of the National Hospital. "I thought there will be more blasts and fell face down. I saw a cab bang into a wall. A chunk of flesh, probably the bomber's landed close to me. The next thing I remember was people from the area carrying me and taking me to hospital." 

Hundred yards away from the scene of the blast, D.M. Gunatileke was changing a tyre in his cycle shop. Having been in business for five months, Gunatileke was very much a man of the area and had many clients including service personnel from the nearby Anderson flats. 

Monday was just another ordinary day for him. "I didn't know the Prime Minister was to pass that way. Generally that road is used by a lot of vehicles," he says, unable to recall ever spotting tinted vehicles whizzing past before. 

After a hearty lunch at home, in the Chitra Lane flats, he had returned to the cycle shop. "Suddenly there was a big explosion and the next thing I knew was that shrapnel had hit me in the neck." Blood pouring from his wounds, he had run towards the flats and was helped by some boys there who rushed him to hospital. 

Currently warded at the National Hospital he is recovering from the pain and shock. "Yesterday also some people from the area came and told me that they had spotted another suspicious looking person. There's no running away from it," he says wearily. "We have to go on. Keep working and keep living."

Hasini Ganegala had always wondered what people undergo when caught in an explosion, but her experience on Monday was beyond any horror she could have imagined. The 13-year-old student of Visakha Vidyalaya, was travelling on the same route she takes day after day after school. "My Bappi (uncle) was driving the van and my aunt was sitting in the front." Tired, she had been dozing behind when the explosion occurred. 

"There was this loud boom and I woke up thinking that we had met with an accident." Looking around initially she couldn't fathom what had happened. "There was dust everywhere and blood near me. I screamed at my Bappi to stop the vehicle and he kept telling me he couldn't."

By then the dust had begun to settle and "the first thing I saw was the head and leg of the suicide bomber. Then I knew it was a bomb explosion and I couldn't stop screaming."

Her aunt having sustained only minor injuries on her hand had got down from the vehicle to help Hasini out. The van door was jammed and finally Hasini had to scramble out through an open window at the back. "I can't remember exactly what happened thereafter but I remember going to a house nearby and calling my father," she says.

Meanwhile the driver of another vehicle that was passing took them to the Accident Service. "I sat in the front with my uncle. The man from the red cab, which was also caught in the explosion, was at the back. He was in great pain and vomiting blood," Hasini recalls.

That evening Hasini was wheeled into the theatre from Ward 73-the casualty ward- and had shrapnel removed from her leg and under her chin. 

Back at home, slowly recovering from the shock, Hasini prepares for her upcoming term tests. "I'm so glad I'm alive," she says thankfully. "Yesterday I had a good night's sleep. I only get a little scared sometimes, when I'm alone. But I don't ever want to go down that road again." 

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