Jehan's narrow escape from tsunami terror
By Anushika Gunawardana
"We were very fortunate. Most things worked out for us. If we had got fifteen minutes late, we would have collided straight on with the waves." So says Sri Lankan cricketer Jehan Mubarak, about last Sunday's deadly tsunami. As things went, he and his group of friends, made a timely escape, and considering the death and devastation that ensued. This was no mean feat.

Jehan and his friends had just arrived in Bentota, where they were supposed to spend a day of relaxation and fun, at an HSBC bungalow, when things got drastically out of hand. "It was completely unexpected," says Jehan.

Reliving the moment, Jehan maintains, "It was about 9.30 in the morning when we got there. We hadn't even unpacked. Some of us had just sat down to take a small rest after the long drive. Two friends and I went near the pool, and we were standing there taking in the scenery, when the first wave came in. It was about three feet high and swept right across the pool."

The cricketer continued, "At first we didn't know what was happening, but felt that we should seek safety. The only place where there was safety was the roof. Fortunately, there was a ladder inside the bungalow, which we used to climb on to the roof. That was the best thing that happened. Having that ladder really helped."

Since no one in the party, as most of the country, had any idea that things would turn out to be so much worse, some of his friends had climbed down to check on what was happening. But they had all managed to scamper back up quickly, for fear of more waves coming through. And came they did. Jehan says that with the next couple of strong waves, things started to look dangerous. "The second, third and the fourth waves were the worst.

There was so much water gushing about and the water level came just below the roof. The bungalow was completely flooded with water. Some of the waves were nearly six feet high." According to Jehan the seventh wave had been the strongest, bringing in lots of debris and mud. Jehan recalls the way they had witnessed their vehicles getting dragged off, while waiting on the roof, was agonising to watch. There was nothing they could do. Life was more valuable.

One other aspect that worked out in his favour was that he was able to use his mobile phone to call for help. As the disaster around Asia was still uncovering, the phone lines, which were later to become completely congested, were relatively free. Jehan had managed to call his mother, who in turn had contacted Lalith Abeysekara, a friend at the Air Force, to arrange for a way to get them out.

In the meantime the whole party found itself stranded on the roof, surrounded by water. At a short lull, they had climbed down and made their way to the 'Seasands,' a hotel 200m South of their bungalow. From there, the party had been joined by a crowd of 150 people, mostly tourists, looking for a way to get to dry land. There, they had managed to flag a chopper down, and in a moment resembling an action film, had been airlifted to a school in Beruwala. If not for the gravity of the situation where lives were at risk, and a country and region had been devastated, this could have been an adventure of a kind.

Asked whether he feared for his life at any point in this ordeal, Jehan had this to say. "I never thought that I would die. The most important thing was to stay calm and not to panic. When I was on the phone I heard that about 150 people were reported to be dead, but I didn't share this with my friends for fear of making them panic." This indeed is a rare ability, where one is able to keep one's head in a moment of danger.

Jehan further adds that it was also easier to keep calm since they had no idea of the disaster unfolding in Asia. It was only after they got home that they all realised, what a narrow escape they had had. Commenting on the situation that is unraveling around us these days, he believes that it will take a long time for those affected to recover.

On Tuesday, the 28th, Jehan had gone to Bentota to take a look around the bungalow, which he claims is destroyed on the inside, although the structure remains. "There is a lot of debris around. My car was inside the garden of the next bungalow. The dividing wall had been washed away by the waves. Everybody's cars had gone in various directions and were lying around in various angles. Many of them were badly dented, and the shutters smashed to pieces. But the most important thing is that all of us managed to get out in time - unharmed."

At present, Jehan is helping out with relief efforts underway at the Cricket Board, to send much needed supplies to the coastal areas, devastated by Sunday's tsunami. It is the least he can do to help the victims of this disaster. For the moment though he is definitely savouring the fortunate way in which things worked out for him and his friends, while also aware of the dangers that could have befallen.


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