Wednesday, 19 January 2005  
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A visit to the tsunami-swept North

by Rajkumar Kanagasingam


Residents of Mullaitivu, gather together amid the destruction left by the devastating tsunami. The town still lists 800 persons as missing and between 4000-5000 as dead. (AFP)

I couldn't imagine how a tremour underneath in the form of an earthquake by tectonic plate movements caused a massive disaster in the coastal areas of most of the Indian Ocean Rim countries.

Memories of the early morning travel from George Town, the capital of Penang Island of Malaysia to the Teluk Bahang, the northern coastal front of the island still come to mind with the different panoramas of the Strait of Malacca and the silently waving southern seas of Andaman-Nicobar Islands in the far distance.

Likewise the memories of my recent visit in association with a mission on disaster relief to the northern regions of Kilinochchi, Mullaitivu and Jaffna come to mind.

Dietmar Doring, Director of "Peace Village International", a German national with his country's young university students as volunteers, Jean Claude Ramige, a veteran German documentary filmmaker who visited and documented various issues ranging from the tribal' cultures to the worst war atrocities around the world and a few relief work volunteers from some local television channels made up the rest of the group.

When we arrived in Kilinochchi, twilight was turning into complete darkness everywhere.

A member of the Sea Tiger unit of the LTTE was all the way along with us by guiding us in the tsunami ravaged areas.

The LTTE member was telling us that they were discovering everyday the dead bodies of the tidal wave victims from a pond which was once a rain water catchment - source, but now a sea water overflowing area.

He said that the bodies were being burnt immediately after recovery and asked us to wait to witness that day's excavation.

The heavy devastation had not only shattered the coastal areas but also the planet earth itself by changing its orbital direction by the explosion it caused.

We had a chance to meet a Catholic priest who narrowly escaped from the tragedy near his totally perished church in coastal Mullaitivu.

His visit to a nearby church that fateful day saved him and left a spiritual leader alive, who could lead the remaining few who have lost their kith and kin and almost everything.

The flood ravaged ruins of the houses were scattered everywhere and I managed to get onto a piece of debris to have a wider view of the area.

Now I could see the far corner of the village "Kallapadu", a southern coastal hamlet of Mullaitivu which was totally devastated by the giant tidal waves. My inner-eyes started to visualize in a distance spectrum gradually and now I could experience the tragedies of the coastal hamlets "Semmalai" and "Alampil", which were almost sunk underneath, where a few years ago, during my tenure as an officer in CARE International in the war - torn periods of the northern region, I visited extensively and was amazed by the hospitality of those village folk, but now everything has perished.

Still I could hear those melodies of a cinema song which was aired over a radio while I was resting under the shade of a flock of densely grown coconut trees.

Oh! What an illusive world, now everything has changed and everything has disappeared. When I turned my attention from the solid ruined wreckage where I was standing towards the distantnorthern horizon, the devastation of the coastal villages Manarkadu, Nagarkovil and Chempianpattu were coming to mind.

All were destroyed leaving a few to witness to the horrific tidal waves to the forthcoming generations.

Our next destination, the Mulliavallai hospital which is located nearly fifteen kilometers away from Mullaitivu towards the jungle interior, is telling many stories of the events immediately after the tidal wave disaster.

The hospital, which was originally for maternity purposes has now turned to caring for the injured people from the tidal waves. It is struggling with a General Practitioner who is assisted by a retired medical practitioner and a junior medical officer from a different hospital, while their medical service requirement is to be provided by at least twenty medical officers when compared with a standard developed country which has a healthy medical history.

The German volunteers were busily unloading the medical equipment from one of the medium - sized lorries out of the six-vehicle convoy which was moving always together.

These volunteers who came to Sri Lanka as part of their student exchange program to complete their internship are from various universities in different fields in the streams of Economics, Business Administration, Sociology and so on. They were very active in their humanitarian task which they chose voluntarily.

The German TV personnel were busy documenting the experiences of those young European adventurers who were volunteering in Asia by risking their lives to the epidemics which are always associated with tragic devastation and other jungle borne diseases, dengue and the malaria. Friederike Wagner, a second year student of a leading German university was relating his experiences a couple of hours ago.

The satellite transmission of that documentary would reach millions of Germans in a few hours and certainly make them heroes and heroines in their motherland.

While we were passing the bridge which links Mullaitivu to the mainland, speedily hurrying black - cranes from the sea to the land frightened me, making me wonder whether there were new tidal waves on their way.

A couple of hours earlier we were told when we were passing that bridge towards Mullaitivu, how the tidal waves washed away the vehicles and the passengers who passed-by.

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