Effect of the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake on Sri Lanka

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As of 16:35 GST 3 January 2005, Sri Lankan authorities report 30,196 confirmed deaths[1] after the island was hit by the tsunami resulting from the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake on December 26, 2004. Many of the dead were adults and the elderly. The south and east coasts were worst hit. One and a half million people have been displaced from their homes. The death toll continues to rise as the threat of infectious diseases breaking out has turned into a fact, with doctors confirming first cases of cholera.

The train which was struck by the tsunami.

About 69 dead were counted at Batticaloa in the east. At Trincomalee in the northeast, where the tsunami reached more than 2 km (1.25 mi) inland, 800 were reported dead. In neighbouring Amparai district alone, more than 5,000 dead. The naval base at Trincomalee is reported to be submerged. About 1000 more dead were counted in Mullaitivu and Vadamaradchi East [1]. A holiday train, the "Queen of the Sea", was struck by the tsunami near the village of Telwatta as it travelled between Colombo and Galle carrying at least 1,700 passengers, killing all but a handful on board.

The agricultural sector has been affected seriously. 259 km² of paddy land has been destroyed in the northern, eastern, southern and western coastal belt. In addition, the extensive salinization of paddy lands has rendered them unsuitable for paddy cultivation. Rubbish has also been deposited on paddy lands. A large number of agricultural vehicles and equipment have been destroyed and canals and drains have been blocked. Underground sources of water have also been salinated.[2]

Across the island collections are being taken for those who have lost everything, vans with PA systems driving around calling on people to give whatever they can. Even in the poorest, most remote areas people flock to the roadside to hand over money, clothes, bottles of water and bags of rice and lentils.

Apart from homes, many hotels as well as shops were reported to have been damaged. Hotels along the south coast were full of both foreign tourists and Sri Lankans making use of the long Christmas weekend. Twenty thousand soldiers were deployed in government-controlled areas to assist in relief operations and maintain law and order after sporadic looting. Curfews had been imposed in some areas to curb looting. Chinese light antipersonnel mines of type T-72A, left after the two-decade civil war, are feared to have been washed up and spread by the surge of water. The Norwegian Peoples' Aid Organization is currently assembling a team of mine sweepers to assess the situation.

It has been noted that in the Yala National Park, many animals seem to have moved to higher regions in order to escape the disaster. It is unclear how they detected the coming disaster, although a sixth sense, perhaps the ability to hear the infrasound rumble of the tremors or approaching tsunami, was mentioned in reports. Another possible reason is that many animals can run faster than people, enabling them to outrun the tsunami.

The test match ground at Galle, where international cricket is played, has been devastated.


Remains of a house near Telwatte, photographed in March 2008.
2004 Tsunami Memorial in SriLanka.

The main highway in the south of Sri Lanka runs along the coast and was closed in the aftermath of the tsunami, delaying relief supplies. A huge initial effort to deliver supplies was made by large numbers of private individuals filling their own vans and pickup trucks with food, clothing and bottled water and driving to affected areas.

In Sri Lanka the first reports of measles and diarrhoea reached authorities, renewing fears of a deadly epidemic. However, relief operations based in the capital Colombo are well underway.

On the morning of Thursday 30 December the Indian government erroneously warned of another possible tsunami. The false alarm caused general panic in relief camps and incited traffic jams on roads leading from the coast.[3]

The science fiction author and scuba diver Sir Arthur C Clarke, who lives in Colombo, the capital, has issued a statement saying that Sri Lanka "lacks the resources and capacity to cope with the aftermath". Clarke reported that his family and staff were safe, "even though some are badly shaken and relate harrowing first hand accounts of what happened", and that his diving school (Arthur C. Clarke Diving School) "Underwater Safaris" at Hikkaduwa had been destroyed (see this link).

Sri Lanka's most popular sport is cricket, and the Australian, Bangladeshi, English and South African cricket teams have already announced that they are making donations to the humanitarian effort in Sri Lanka and other Asian countries. The Indian cricket team has pledged funds to the humanitarian effort in southern India. The cricketing world has already announced that two one-day matches will be played to raise further funds.[4]

International assistance[edit]

Indian navy medical team arrived in Colombo within hours of the tsunami. Eventually India deployed 14 ships, nearly 1,000 military personnel and several dozen helicopters and airplanes to its devastated island neighbor to help with relief efforts.[5]

A three-ship fleet carrying 2,000 US Marines out of Diego Garcia was sent to Sri Lanka. The Marines were bound for Iraq to assist in the January elections, but the fleet included a dozen heavy-lift helicopters and surgical hospitals, both badly needed in Sri Lanka.

On January 6, 2005, 150 members of the Canadian Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART), a Canadian Forces group, arrived in Sri Lanka. The team brought four water purification units and provided medical, engineering and communication services. Another 50 members of the team arrived on January 8. to help the people

Relief efforts were impeded by heavy monsoon rain which washed-out roads and caused freshwater flooding. In most of India the winter northeast monsoon is relatively dry, but in Sri Lanka and Tamil Nadu it blows from Burma across the Bay of Bengal picking up water from the sea.

President George W. Bush speaks with Sri Lankan President Chandrika Kumaratunga during a phone call in Crawford, Texas, Wednesday, Dec. 29, 2004.


External links[edit]


Regional Humanitarian situation due to the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami
Burma | India | Indonesia | Malaysia | Maldives | Somalia | Sri Lanka | Thailand