SVH Team: Fred & Somlak
More options 01:35 (17 hours ago)
GALLE ROAD, NARIGAMA, HIKKADUWA, SRI LANKA
TSUNAMI STORY 0915 hrs 26 December 2004
The Tsunami hit Sunbeach Hotel at 9.15 on Boxing Day. We had 41 family and friends who were staying at Sunbeach and in other neighbouring hotels â€“ Moonbeam, Golden Sands, Sunilâ€˜s Beach & Casalanka. By that time of day most people would have been at the market in the sea or along the beach. However the night before we had had a wonderful Christmas meal and party that had gone on late so most people were just getting up. Many were in their rooms or in the gardens between the hotel and the beach. Murray was swimming in the sea and his daughter Eve (15) was surfing in front of the hotel. Sharon and Jill were walking some way along the beach.
The height of the wave generated by the Tsunami is determined by the shoreline. Sunbeach benefited from being on a long fairly straight stretch of beach. As the Tsunami approached it appeared that the tide was coming in very fast. It quickly passed the high tide mark and started pulling out sunloungers and deckchairs. At first a few people laughed as they tried to rescue the furniture. Then they started screaming as the water kept coming faster and deeper. The staff and guests raised the alarm.
The following events took place over 60 seconds.
Waiter Chandana and chef Anura ran down the Sunbeach hotel corridor banging on doors to get out the guests and staff. They probably saved many lives. Meanwhile guests already outside having breakfast ran through the garden shouting. We ran along the garden path to the road or out of the hotel rooms along the corridor as it filled up with water and debris. As we ran furniture was crashing into us and the water depth rose to our waists. As we left the front garden onto the road the hotel gate was forced shut by the power of the water leaving several staff and Rob trapped in the garden between the hotel and the gate. Rob was trying to re-enter the hotel unsure at to whether his children had escaped. The corridors of the hotel became impassable with furniture and wreckage. The whole of the rear of the hotel and all the boundary walls except the roadside wall collapsed. All the contents of the hotel were destroyed.
Next door at Golden Sands Hotel Vicky was trying to get her boys Charlie (10) and George (8) from their rooms to safety. As she ran through the corridor holding Charlieâ€˜s hand Charlie was swept away by the wave and crashed against furniture before being caught by one of the staff. George was trapped in his room until Andrew broke it down and rescued him
Jill and Sharon were half a mile along the beach. They were overrun by the wave and struggled through a hotel garden to the road where they saw people waving from a first floor balcony. Jill was swept off her feet but she was helped to safety to the balcony followed by Sharon.
Eve was surfing in front of Sunbeach. Due to the quick thinking of an Italian canoeist nearby she was persuaded to sit it out as they watched the devastation from the sea. She was able to get back in safely as the first tidal surge went back out. Murray too had a difficult time getting out of the water and has some injuries from debris as he struggled to get upright but was taken from the beach right through to the main road by the water. Claire, Rosie and Jamie had to endure a horrendous wait to locate them both.
At Moonbeam Phil and Jan were able to get Natalie (14) and Georgia (14) out the hotel and safely into the jungle onto high ground, along with other children.
Others from our party gathered our children from the beach area and into the jungle. The surge of water went across the road into the jungle as far as the railway line about 700 yards away.
It then receded out many hundreds of yards exposing the reef. There were a further 5 surges over the next few hours each one of diminishing strength.
All 41 of our party were eventually safe and found sanctuary with Sri Lankan friends on a hill 1 kilometre from the beach. For some of us we didnâ€˜t know our children were safe for 90 minutes.
Mean while a mile along the beach the wave overwhelmed the village market and over 1000 were killed. On any other Sunday we and our guests would have been amongst them. A little further out of the village the rail track was destroyed and a train derailed. 1400 people died. 7 miles south in Galle the bus station was overwhelmed by a 40 foot wave. Over 2000 people died there and in nearby schools and hospitals.
Most of the rest of Sunday was spent finding safe accommodation with local friends. There were constant rumours of further waves but no hard information as we had no radio or TV. At one point the rumours were so strong that we evacuated all the children further into the jungle in a truck.
Electricity and the phone system were down although most of us were able to contact our families by mobile phone. Shopping trips were hastily organised to jungle shacks to find candles and bottled water.
On Monday after a sleepless and fearful night we managed to find enough transport to evacuate half our party with the youngest children. The area quickly ran out of food and transport and fuel. We were fed and looked after by our staff and other local friends.
They continued to stay with us in spite of knowing that their own families were in danger and deeply traumatised. Chamindaâ€˜s mother had been rescued up to her neck in water. Two of our sri lankan staff have lost family members: one his mother & sister who are missing, presumed dead, at the market in Hikkaduwa town, and the other his grandmother in Ambalangoda just north of us.
We were also trying to contact friends who were on the east coast which was very badly effected. We have now got through to one of them Fred at the Siam View Hotel. He told us that several people we know died in Arugam Bay including Cairo, the 8 year old son of an American friend Richard Brassard and Per Goodman the owner of the Stardust Guest House.
Over the following 3 days we tried to locate fuel and vans to evacuate our party from the area. We managed to get some fuel from the High Commission who had set up a centre in Galle. We told them about a local Brit with a broken pelvis lying in a house nearby in the jungle. He was eventually evacuated by helicopter three days later.
We managed to get the last party out on Wednesday and travelled up the coast to Colombo to get flights out of the country.
To see the aftermath we wonder at our good fortune at having all of our group alive and safe with no serious injuries except the emotional trauma of the experience. Now we wish to return the exceptional kindness shown by the Sri Lankan people and help where possible.
Family, Friends & Guests of Sunbeach Hotel, who were there on 26 December 04 & all of whom are safe and well:
Jo Sheehan, Richard Rogers, Alex Webb, Georgia Webb, Liz Agiss,
Joe Murray, Rachel Lewis, Andrew Baker, Sharon Webber, Dave Rose, Mandy Rose, Roger Ely, Fenella Bosomworth, Jan Hall, Phil Hall, Natalie Hall, Nicky Sheehan, Neil Butler, Rob Small, Anna Delaney, Katie Boniface,
Laura Boniface, Michael Boniface, Maria Boniface, Kyle Harrison,
Damien Harrison, Lawrence Harrison, Veronica Harrison, Murray Johnstone, Claire Johnstone, Jamie Johnstone, Evie Johnstone, Rosie Johnstone,
Jill Morrell, Vicky Pearson, Charlie Pearson, George Pearson, Sheryl Hall, Martin Kinsella, Jerry Callow, Alessandra Petucco, Christina Gordon,
How you can help
We are setting up a private fund to support the local communities of Dodanduwa & Hikkaduwa, fundraising amongst family and friends and previous visitors to Sunbeach.
Many of our staff and local friends come from these communities including our Manager Chaminda Pandithage.
Dodanduwa is Chamindaâ€˜s home village and he is a leader of the village committee that supports the local community in many ways. They raise funds for people who have suffered loss, organise the yearly carnival and last year raised funds and distributed food to flood victims.
The village is very poor with most people earning their living by fishing or travelling to other towns including Colombo to work. Most earn between Â£200 – Â£450 a year. Now they cannot travel as the railway has been destroyed and they cannot fish as much of the fleet was wrecked. Many people lost their homes.
Chaminda and his committee will identify people in most need and distribute purchased goods and funds.
Sunbeach started it with Â£500 and Mike Rowan (Big Rory) has raised Â£2500 in Australia.
Many of our friends who have visited Sunbeach have already committed further funds.
The first money has gone to providing food parcels. Â£500 will feed 2000 people for one day.
We expect to help provide medicine, temporary and later permanent accommodation and then help the fishermen re-establish their businesses.
We are working with Chaminda to provide a shopping list and a reporting system so that people can see what their money is providing.
We are looking at the most efficient way of setting up, managing and auditing the fund.
Details of the account will be posted here in the next few days â€“ week of 3rd January 2005.
The new account will be administered by an independent accountant and details of monies raised and expenditure will be updated on this website.
Alternatively you could donate money to an appropriate international aid agency, details can be found on the internet.
Neil and Nicky expect to be returning to Sri Lanka shortly to support Chaminda in developing the fund and identifying other ways we can support the community in getting back on its feet.
One of the best ways anyone can support the local economy is to return to the island as visitors. We will post information on health and safety issues in the area as we receive it.
Please forward this link to friends and family. www.sunbeachsurf.com Thankyou