Tsunami Hotel reopened

A YEAR after giant waves crashed ashore in eastern Sri Lanka and swept away the 13-room Tsunami Hotel, the resort reopened this week under the same name A?a??a?? a testament, its owner says, to the spirit of survival.

On December 26, when the tsunami hit, British-born owner Lee Blackmore was in Hong Kong.

The resort A?a??a?? popular with Western surfers A?a??a?? had eight guests and five staff.

“Everything finished, hotel gone,” he remembers his Sri Lankan partner, Naleens, telling him on the phone.

Arugam Bay A?a??a?? where the hotel sits A?a??a?? is a tiny fishing village. Travellers say it has probably the best surf in Sri Lanka, a country of 19 million, where the toll of 31,000 dead from the tsunami was surpassed only by IndonesiaA?a??E?s toll.

The killer waves destroyed or damaged 48 hotels and resorts in Sri Lanka, where tourism is the third-largest foreign currency earner.

But Mr Blackmore was luckier than many and quickly resolved to rebuild.

“I heard that though hundreds had died, all my friends had survived, including all my guests and staff.

“From that point forward, I knew we could come back. We had to come back.”

He raised US$6000 (NZ$9000) from friends and returned to Arugam Bay.

“Building after building is destroyed, the road ripped up, wrecks of cars vans and buses litter the bay.

“I get to our place and find the first six rooms are now just rubble, the rest very badly damaged,” he recalled.

The past year of reconstruction has gone slowly because a river bridge that connects the bay was out of service for months.

There were electricity cuts for days at a time.

“After a year of determined resolve, struggle, the overcoming of countless obstacles, and all the money I had and more, we have reopened.”

The hotel is smaller, at least for now, with just seven rooms.

But one thing has not changed A?a??a?? the name.

“Maybe some people will be put off, but this hotel could be a symbol of overcoming tragedy,” said Mr Blackmore, who first came to Sri Lanka in 1998 and opened the resort a year later.

“We had to fight back and not be beaten.”

He was expecting his first guests on Monday A?a??a?? the one-year anniversary of the tsunami that killed at least 230,000 throughout Asia. A?a??a?? AP

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