From north to south a battered people
Ampara: Some get nothing, others get all
By Frances Bulathsinghala
Five days after the waves of terror hit Sri Lanka, government authorities are still trying to streamline aid to Ampara the worst hit area, which according to the latest statistics has a confirmed number of 10,436 deaths (with the bodies of 6,200 found and the rest categorised as missing) and 183,527 persons estimated as being displaced.

"We have not been able to put into place a policy decision on how to distribute the relief. There is no equal distribution. Some people may get in excess and some people nothing," Ampara District Secretary Herath Abeyweera told us when we visited the tsunami-ravaged area of Kalmunai in Ampara, on Thursday.

"The distribution is haphazard. People transporting food and essential supplies are proceeding to areas they want. As a result some areas in need of urgent aid may not be getting anything. If people bring the relief directly to us we will distribute it through the Divisional Secretaries," said Mr. Abeyweera who also claimed that 87,000 kilos of rice from the co-operatives had been distributed to affected areas and there were 127 camps housing the displaced.

Although he said that distribution done through the Divisional Secretaries, was being monitored he also said he was unable to comment on the aid being dispatched from the government stating that it was immaterial whether the aid came from the government or from the public.

Mr. Abeyweera also said that the District Secretariat would be able to feed the displaced people for about a month, providing the aid kept arriving at a steady pace. "But the government should have a policy decision on resettlement. We still do not know if the people are going to be resettled in the coastal areas or not," he said.

An officer attached to the District Secretariat emergency aid unit consisting of members of the STF, police and army commenting on the plight of the people said, "They need toothbrushes. They need anything that the people can give. The Tamil villages have little or nothing. The Sinhala village, Paanama which has been cutoff from the rest as a main bridge has been destroyed, is getting no relief at all."

He also said in certain areas the LTTE were reportedly diverting the vehicles containing relief aid to their territory. He said there maybe a surplus of food being distributed in the Muslim villages as vast stocks of food was being collected in a systematic manner in the mosques in consultation with the District Secretariat, unlike in some Tamil villages where there was no one to streamline the distribution of food and other essentials.

"There is no proper list of the things that are coming in. We don't know what is being given to the displaced people," he said. According to the District Secretariat some of the worst affected areas in Ampara are Kalmunai, Pottuvil, Maruthamunai and Karaithivu.

Another problem was the deteriorating sanitation situation. "They are still clearing the bodies but people have already gone back to what remains of their homes, despite the stench. There is nothing we can do. We do not have the resources. So far we have only 20 excavators but we need at least 50 to clear the debris where we suspect more bodies may be buried under the rubble," said another desperate officer.

"The distribution of relief did get out of hand. We are trying to rectify the situation by ensuring equal distribution as far as possible. Officially the police have nothing to do with the distribution, except in the area of Paanama which is not accessible by road. We have got complaints that stocks that are being distributed are being looted and lorries waylaid. Here we are working with the STF, Air Force and the Army to provide aid," said Ampara district's SSP Ananda Levangama who said police are sending two police escorts per lorry to ensure that they are not waylaid. He also said a committee has been setup to see that relief is being distributed equally according to the needs of the camps.

He also said as a long-term plan a meteorological centre would be set up in Ampara to avoid unnecessary panic as happened on Thursday when people started fleeing when there was false alarm of a second tsunami hitting the country.

En route from Samanthurai to Kalmunai we witnessed lorry loads of food items being directed to mosques. "This is for our village", said a representative of the Sainthamaradu Jumma Grand Mosque as sacks of rice were being unloaded from a row of lorries.

However in the Kalmunai zone III division in a school housing about 500 Tamil families the situation was very different with people complaining they hadn't received enough aid.

"There are no facilities to cook food and we are not receiving any cooked meals. We haven't got any dry rations either and no one from the Divisional Secretariat has come here," said V. Elandaraja, a Rural Development Society President who has volunteered to oversee the camp.

"No we have not got anything," lamented another displaced person, Kandiah Selvam whose twelve year old daughter had been dragged off by the furious waters.

In another camp further away in Kanahiipuram which is occupied by 80 families, eleven-year-old Sumudu Dedunu who had witnessed her two year old sister being dragged away with her mother said they were not getting enough food to eat.

In Karaithivu, Suresh Kumar, an officer working at the housing department whose residence adjoins the Ramakrishna Boys School that is housing 350 families, said adequate amounts of food came only on Friday.

"The cooking for these families is being done at my house. We do not have enough utensils. Until Friday we had no cooking utensils at all. We are aware that the aid is flowing in and we have even got items sent by the Veddah community. It is just that we do not get the things we need," he lamented.

Meanwhile, we saw piles of clothes being dumped in the school hall and grounds of the Ramakrishna Boys school but no signs of any edibles. "We just keep getting clothes. No one asks us what we want. No responsible government officer has approached us so far," said S. Puvanesaraja, a retired Grama Niladri who was at the camp.

Matara: Looting amidst haphazard relief distribution
By Santhush Fernando
Seven days after disaster struck the coastal belt of Sri Lanka, some people in the South are moving back to what remains of their homes trying to pick up the pieces and return to work, while others are desperately in need of relief, while still others are looking for their loved ones amidst the rubble and ruin.

When we visited several areas in Matara there did not appear to be any properly organised government-backed or privately-backed relief programmes in operation. However, we saw officers of the three armed forces together with the police doing their utmost to bring some relief to those in need.

On the economic front, the heart of tourism in the South, Ahangama, Weligama and Hikkaduwa has been devastated by the furious waves. In Matara among the hundreds of buildings that have been destroyed or damaged is the market that was swept away along with the people, the magistrate Court complex, and the lawyers complex in the Dutch Fort. The areas of Paramulla, Pallimulla, Kotuwegoda, Fort and Modera in particular have been badly hit.

Eraj de Silva, a technical officer attached to the Divisional Secretariat in Matara told us that the people in the area were in dire need of urgent relief and upto that time they had received very little if not nothing.

"My house in Modera area was badly damaged, but we all survived because we ran upstairs. Many of our neighbours also rushed to our house. If the waves had struck in the night, the whole family except for my wife and I would have perished because only the two of us sleep upstairs," said a relieved Eraj.

He said a gang of about 15 to 20 prisoners who had broken free amidst the melee had tried to rob his house, but with the help of neighbours he had managed to save whatever items were left. His was just one of many tales of vultures attacking the already battered people. Talking about the needs of the people he said food, clothes and clean water were what were needed most urgently. He also said people felt very insecure at nights, because of the threat of robbers amidst frequent blackouts.

Matara Prison's chief jailor N. Karunasekara said as the wall of the prison collapsed, 305 of the 410 prisoners had got away. He said many of them were caught in the current, while the remaining 105 had been taken to Kuruwita prison.

Fred Kumarapperuma, District President for National Council for NGOs of Sri Lanka, said the NGOs were in the forefront of relief organisations as little government assistance had reached the people.

"We had to organise people to bury the bodies because some Municipal Council workers were refusing to bury them. In some cases the situation is so bad that some relatives who are unable to find help to bury bodies have left them to rot. With the help of some relatives of the deseased people we managed to bury about 200 bodies. We also need more assistance from the government for relief work," Mr. Karunasekera said.

Describing that fateful Sunday, Sister Calista of the Church of Our Lady of Matara, said the calamity occurred at about 9.15 a.m. during Holy Mass.

"Just before Holy Communion was served, we heard someone shouting from the back, "Run, run, the water is coming. We saw a van coming our way and we ran towrads it as Sister Bernadette and I were caught in a current. I managed to escape, but Sr. Bernadette wasn't so lucky, because the roof of the sacristy fell on her. When water reached the cubicle where the miraculous statue of Our Lady of Matara was kept, the waves crashed on the glass and dragged the statue to sea. This is the fourth time this has happened but I am certain the statue will come back to the church after water levels recede. Vicar of the Church, Rev. Charles Hewawasam told The Sunday Times that about 15 parishioners had died.

"We have no contact with the Diocese of Galle or Colombo. The people here have lost everything. I lost all my belongings including cassocks. I am wearing clothes that I borrowed from some of the parishioners. The people here are in dire need of food, clothes and water," Father Hewawasam told us after performing the final rites on sixty-year-old parishioner, Patricia Senaratne.

North-East:Ravaged by war now by tsunami
By Chris Kamalendran
Thousands of people in the north-east who have lived for the past two decades in refugee camps due to the war situation, are now destitute once again due to the destruction of Sunday's tsunami waves. All along the coast from north to east it is a scene of devastation and destruction with houses, hospitals and schools flattened, and boats and roads destroyed.

In the north alone more than 3000 people are feared dead while in Trincomalee district alone about 1000 are confirmed dead.

Yesterday, bodies were still being retrieved and were being put on make-shift funeral pyres, then and there, while mass burials took place earlier in the week as many of the bodies had not been identified as most relatives who had survived were themselves destitute and living in camps unable to perform last rites.

The LTTE too has suffered many casualties with about 700 cadres reported dead and dozens still missing. Eyewitnesses to the horrific scenes of that fateful Sunday in Mullaitivu said the area was hit around 9 a.m. and one of the places struck was the church where Mass was in progress. More than 300 people who had been in the church and surrounding areas had been killed.

In addition to the waves the flying razor-sharp edges of the broken palmyrah trees had caused severe injuries and in some instances death too. In Jaffna, the injuries were mainly caused by collapsing buildings and other structures. At least 265 schools in the north and eastern coastal areas have been destroyed and dozens of teachers have been killed. North East Provincial Education Ministry Secretary R.Thiagalinkam has estimated that more than Rs. 125 million will be needed to merely to reopen schools while more funds will be needed for reconstruction of the buildings.

He said officials have started collecting details of the students, teachers, principals and non-academics who have been killed. In the Mullaitivu area fishermen have been the worst affected with all their fishing boats being swept away and their houses destroyed. The LTTE's Tamil Rehabilitation Organization (TRO) has moved into help the affected people by sending medical teams. The TRO members and civilians volunteering were vaccinated before they were sent into the areas to help the affected persons.

The TRO has allocated Rs.12 million rupees for immediate relief and medicine for LTTE controlled areas and deployed more than 400 volunteers to provide assistance to the victims. The TRO said their work had been restricted as they were also affected having lost more than 150 of their members.

From Colombo by Friday at least 25 trucks had been sent to these areas while two flights carrying clothing from Switzerland landed on Friday in Colombo and is due to be dispatched to the affected areas in the north east. The TRO has been assured of more funds with the expatriate community promising more than US dollars 350 million and other forms of assistance. In Trincomalee a District Task Force (DTF) has been established to co-ordinate relief supplies to victims and for rehabilitation work of the coastal areas.

Government Agent Gamini Rodrigo is acting as the chairman while S.Elilan, head of the Trincomalee district political secretariat of the LTTE, representatives of international, national and non-governmental organizations are among the other members of the DTF, sources said. The committee has been appointed amidst allegations that the relief items brought to Trincomalee were being taken away by various groups and relief was not reaching the affected people.

The TRO has alleged that some of the food aid and medicines were stopped in the Kantalai area by JVP supporters and diverted to other areas. On Friday relief distribution in the Muttur division and parts of Eachchilampathu division was affected due to floods.

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