Tamils - a Trans State Nation..

"To us all towns are one, all men our kin.
Life's good comes not from others' gift, nor ill
Man's pains and pains' relief are from within.
Thus have we seen in visions of the wise !."
Tamil Poem in Purananuru, circa 500 B.C 

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Home > Tamils - a Nation without a State> Tsunami Disaster &  Tamil Eelam > Report from the NorthEast - Arjunan Ethirveerasingam

Tsunami Disaster & Tamil Eelam

Report from the NorthEast
Arjunan Ethirveerasingam

18 February 2005

We have just returned from our first day surveying Tsunami damage in Kalmunai, a small town on the Eastern Coast of Sri Lanka, and it is very hard to keep from breaking down. The mind cannot conceive of the human tragedy that occurred here on 12/26/05. The pictures on TV, the words of the commentators, the words that you read: none can ever do justice to the vastness and thoroughness of the power of the waves’ destruction both in physical and emotional terms.

A torn piece of sari flutters in the evening breeze. Warm and inviting the evening breeze caresses the skin, soft and soothing after the intense heat of the day. A peaceful tropical evening like any other except that the world is silent. The sounds of children playing, the smell of dinner cooking, the families out for an evening stroll down the beach, the groups men gathering in informal groups to drink tea and talk politics, the pick-up cricket matches in the sand, the young lovers stealing away for secret rendezvous… they are all absent and the silence is deafening. No one remains. The few survivors left are living in the inland camps run by the Tamils Rehabilitation Organization and International NGO’s. Far in the distance a few dogs scurry around and one or two people pick through the remains of their home.

The only sounds are the crashing of the waves and the sounds of our footsteps as we pick our way through the desolated remains of thousands of houses and the dreams and lives of their inhabitants. From 500 yards out signs of water damage begin to appear on buildings and in yards and the ground is covered in debris strewn by the rushing waters. And then the houses disappear. Only the faint outlines of the foundations and partial walls remain. For the next 300 yards we walk past a landscape so utterly transformed that it is unrecognizable, every building is flattened.

I had visited Kalmunai in 1998 during the war and had spent an afternoon and evening on this very beach talking to families and playing cricket with the children, but nothing is familiar about the scene now. What were once tightly packed houses lush with trees and flowering plants is now a barren wasteland of bricks, rocks, concrete, household items and flattened Coconut and Palmyhra trees. A child’s flip-flop lays on the sand, alone, its match not visible. A child’s Harry Potter backpack, a young girl’s purse, a pair of pants, and more beautiful remnants of colorful saris lay strewn on the ground and snagged in the trees and bushes. But not a wall stands in the last hundred meters of houses as we approach the sea. Bricks have been broken into small pieces, large pillars lay flat, entire foundations of buildings lay on their sides uprooted from the ground, a ten foot portion of a well lays horizontally on the surface looking like a large pipe rather than a well.

I turn away from the group I’m traveling with. My friends from Operation USA, Carinne Meyer and Nimmi Gowrinathan, spread out to survey and photograph the destruction. Carinne & Nimmi are two of the most amazing human beings you will ever meet. They are two intelligent, powerful, motivated women who give of themselves to the point of exhaustion. I see them through eyes that are welling up with tears. Carinne begins to slowly, caringly photograph the destruction in front of her showing the kindness and consideration that rule her being. The world must see this, must know the extent of what has happened along the entire coast of the NorthEast and South of Sri Lanka and the rest of the Indian Ocean. People will never grasp what happened on 12/26/04. The mind cannot wrap itself around the enormity of this event. And the enormity of it is in danger of numbing the world to the continuing pain and suffering of those that remain.

My digital camera won’t work. I keep buying new batteries that are made in Sri Lanka or India and they only last for a few pictures before they die. I put it away and continue to walk through the debris. My body feels heavy and tears are streaming down my cheeks. I cannot stop them. I don’t want to stop them. I stop and lean against a coconut tree and cry. I cry for the children and their mothers, the fathers and the grandparents, the strong, the weak, the good and the bad… all gone… in an instant a beautiful day ended and so did the lives of hundreds of thousands of people.

I also cry for those left behind. The unknown fisherman we met on the shore who told us of the death of his daughter and the trauma of losing everything that he owns. He does not know what to do with himself. His boat and gear are gone as is his house and daughter. The rest of the family is in the camp, looking to him for the answers he knows he will never have and a future he cannot contemplate. His father and grandfather were fishermen and it is all that he knows.

I cry for Prashanthan, a teacher at the local school who I met in 1998 and whose sister we are staying with, he lost 7 members of his extended family (2 of which were children) and many students from his school. He tells us of the days after the Tsunami, of having to pick up over a hundred bodies himself, of burying them in a mass grave, of finally getting to the point where they had to just douse the bodies with kerosene and burn them where they lay because there were too many to bury.

The numbers stagger the mind. It is inconceivable to think that in less than 10 minutes over 200,000 people died. There are millions of personal stories of the events of that morning, stories of loss, of death, of lives saved and lives destroyed. Lives and stories that are of no greater or lesser value than yours or mine but lives that we will never know about. The media never came to Kalmunai. There was no “story” here, no blond, blue-eyed baby who had lost his parents, no tourists as there were in the South of Sri Lanka; just tens of thousands of lives that have ended and lives that can never be the same no matter the amount of relief that is donated. In some Tamil areas of the NorthEast the government of Sri Lanka has yet to send any aid or assistance at all and the people must rely on the Tamils Rehabilitation Organization (TRO) a local NGO with offices throughout the world that is funded by the Tamil Diaspora.

We came from the sea and the sea has risen up to take us back. After 45 minutes of aimless wandering through the destruction I head for the ocean and the crashing waves. So peaceful, so powerful. I let the water wash over my feet. It is the first time I have touched an ocean since the Tsunami hit. Touched the water that gave life and took life. It has not changed. It remains. Moving constantly, sustaining the planet, giving life and sustenance to millions. The sounds of the waves crashing at my feet seem calm and soothing but they bring terror to the children of the area. Many of the parents have told us that their children wake up screaming in terror in the middle of the night. It seems unnatural that something so beautiful and life giving could have been responsible for so much death and destruction.


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