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Sri Lankans Look to Rebuild After Deadly Tsunami

  • Patricia Nunan

Two weeks after the deadly tsunami ravaged scores of communities, some people in Sri Lanka say they are ready to rebuild and get on with their lives. But with destruction so widespread and aid largely directed at emergency medical care, few know where to begin.

Nandini Fernando and her extended family are sifting through piles of debris, trying to find pieces of their former homes to salvage. The family owned three houses in the coastal town of Moratuwa, approximately 90 kilometers south of Sri Lanka's capital.

Like millions of people across the Indian Ocean region, Ms. Fernando has her own story to tell of the moment the tsunami struck.

"This was my house, she says, we had three rooms and a kitchen. When the water came in, five of us were here, including three kids. When the water came up to neck level, we ran away," she said.

Visible around the curve of the beach in Moratuwa is the capital Colombo, home to an industrial port and tens of thousands of others who were spared from the tsunami's wrath. More than 30,000 people across the country died.

Despite being hit by the wave, residents of Moratuwa consider themselves lucky. Just two people died in the tsunami here. Since it is so near the capital, its residents say they are not suffering from the same health threats, such as a lack of drinking water and food, affecting so many other communities. Most are now living in nearby schools being used as refugee centers.

But that is the only assistance the residents of Moratuwa have received. They say they need more help from the government if they are going to restart their lives.

Sitting amidst the rubble lining the shore is 32-year-old Arunkumara Pereis. He is simply staring at the remains of his house, located just over a sea wall about 20 meters from the water.

Like many people in the village, Mr. Pereis would like to put the tsunami behind him and rebuild his home. But the task of rebuilding may foretell of other difficulties yet to be discussed, such as property rights and whether the government will help move displaced communities.

He said, the government has forbidden the people of Moratuwa from rebuilding their houses here, near the sea. So he has to rebuild somewhere else. But he does not own any land, so he has no idea what to do.

Twenty-five year-old D.D. Nishantha first heard about the tsunami on television, when local news carried images of parts of eastern Sri Lanka where the wave had already struck. No one apparently thought to warn communities in the southern parts of the country, struck by the wave roughly an hour later.

Like many in Moratuwa, Mr. Nishantha is a carpenter, a profession likely to face a high demand following the tragedy. But he says he is not interested in making money.

He said after the waves destroyed their homes, no one has any money. Everyone is a carpenter or house builder. If anyone needs help, he says he will help them without charging. He does not want to charge anyone affected by the tsunami.

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