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British Royal Navy, US Marines Help Tsunami Damaged Communities in Sri Lanka

Across the Indian Ocean region, nations ravaged by December’s tsunami have turned from coping with the crisis to the task of rebuilding. More than 220,000 people were killed in the December 26 tsunami, which pummeled 12 nations. In Sri Lanka, some communities are receiving some hands-on assistance from the British Royal Navy and the U.S. Marines.

British sailors are on the frontlines of a humanitarian disaster. It's the Royal Navy's second visit to the district of Kallady in eastern Sri Lanka, virtually cut off from the nearby city of Batticaloa.

Sailors from the Royal Fleet Auxiliary ship, Diligence already cleared this church of debris swept into it by the December tsunami. With 15 of the churches 28 members killed in the disaster, this visit is about offering moral, and indeed, spiritual support to people whose lives were forever changed by the deadly waves.

Father Charles Howard, a chaplain on the RFA Diligence says, "One of the nice things is that people have been joining in. When we’ve set to sort a house out, get rid of the rubble or launch a boat, they’ve been joining in as well and that's the idea. We want to help them own their own community again."

About 300 Royal Navy personnel are in Sri Lanka from the RFA Diligence and HMS Chatham to provide emergency medical supplies, clean wells, clearing debris and do whatever they can to help.

Captain Peter Sellers of the HMS Chatham says the sailors dive right in to the hard, physical labor. "Most people around the world had given money because that’s all they can do. Were actually in a situation that a lot of people would like to be in because we can do more. We can actually get on the ground and we can get dirty, we can physically help these people. That’s such a good feeling to be able to do that, and that’s what the sailors love doing," said Captain Sellers.

And the British aren't the only ones. U.S. Marines and Navy Seabees are also helping clear the tons of debris littering coastal towns hit by the tsunami.

Tearing down what’s been damaged is a key step towards helping Sri Lankans look toward the future, says Marine spokesman Captain Danny Chung. "What we can do is clear debris, clear rubble, help them rebuild their seawalls like we’ve done, help them clear out the schools. Schools are a number one priority. So what we’ve done is demolish a number of unsound structures and make it possible for the Sri Lankans to rebuild," said Captain Chung.

Sri Lanka has a long way to go before it will fully recover from the tsunami disaster. So far, it’s getting the help it needs, one small project at a time.