Unawatuna: Post Tsunami Scenario – Unawatuna, South Coast, Sri Lanka

Unawatuna: Post Tsunami Scenario
Unawatuna, South Coast, Sri Lanka

It was a Full Moon Day, a day of significance to Buddhists for whom it was the last “Poya Day” of the Year. On the Full Moon day in December, Buddhists begin the Adama’s Peak or Sri Pada pilgrimages which lasts till Vesak Full Moon day in May. On 26th December many tourists in Unawatuna were still in bed after the X-mas night parties etc., others were at breakfast…you’d call it just another day in paradise!

Unawatuna Uprooted
Unawatuna Uprooted
What was unfamiliar was this sound, aptly described in one news item as “a freight train thundering past”.

Then you heard the shouting, the terrified shouts of people, was it some commotion, some village squabble?

The people were running helter skelter but mostly away from the beach. Later some folks gossiped that first they thought that people took to their heels because it was a sea tiger attack?

Who would ever believe that it was the sea that was flooding in?
We dismissed old Granny’s stories about the sea receding long years ago.
My father told me this story too but never believed it.
In fact on 26th August 1883, the sea had indeed receded.

It was a “negative” tsunami, the sea emptied as it lashed a tidal wave some where else.
The people ran it to the empty sea and when the water flowed back they ran inland, no one was hurt or drowned, it had been big fun.

Deserted Beach
Deserted Beach
But this time it was different, it took everyone by surprise, the placid sea blue water in the bay was lifted 15 feet or more and dashed on to the land.

The time was 9.20 in the morning, The clock in the front office of “Seaview Hotel” stoped still.
The wooden beach-front restaurants were wiped away, concrete structures tilted, brick walls washed off.

Lie-low beach beds, tables, chairs, Cola and Pepsi cool boxes, deep freezers and vehicles just floated away.

The water entered the village from Milton end of the bay devastating everything in its wake. It flowed through La Tattarooga, Sandy Happy Banana, Full Moon and crumbled dwellings in the Jayakotuwa village rushing all the way up to the foothills of Rumassala.

The rabid sea flowing in from near Amma’s flattened the house that Arthur C. Clarke lodged in when he first came out to Sri Lanka, fascinated by our corals and ship wrecks. It took a heavy toll on Secret Garden, The Villa and Taprobane by the sea.

Tide also rushed inland between Hot Rock and Thilak’s Restaurants, taking Sunil’s garden with it and damaging Strand Heritage Home, Village Inn, Saffron, Ocean Bay, Golden Ente and Brink House. The angry water also took along with it Submarine Divepad, Seaview, Stranded, Seasong, Smiling Turtle restaurants. The three storied Kingfisher disco built on the beach was tilted and had to be demolished.

The tide rose to a 15-foot high and gushed out through the gap in the Rumassala Hill range near Lands End Hotel. The high water level that submerged the whole village soon receded and slowly flowed out through the Dutch canal into the sea near the Wella Devalaya, deepening it more than 20 feet, clawing into the shallow bay.

Debris on the Beach
Debris on the Beach
Soon the people were back on the roads, looking at the devastated village, finding bodies of dear and near ones, trying to comprehend just what happened. They reckoned that there were two waves rolling in one after the other. They did not bargain for a third wave that hit the village two hours later causing even greater damage that the first.

Tourists who were marooned in first floor buildings were hurrying inland looking for higher elevation and safer places. Many were in the Amarasingharama temple near the dagoba, villagers as well as tourists. Many more had trekked all the way up to the highest points on Rumassala Hill Over two hundred tourists crowded into Rock House where they were for three days before being evacuated.

Choppers started flying in and ferrying the wounded to Hospital in Galle. The doctors among the Tourists attended to dressing and treating children and the wounded. The next day the Yaddehimulla Road was cleared of the debris and the village became accessible. The army sent a paramedic team, slowly the NGOs and other relief agencies came in bringing medical aid, food, clothes.

It was sometime before people could even think of getting back to some normalcy. It took weeks to clear all the debris strewn all over the village, all that was dumped on the vacant Aldiana Hotel land. Electricity was restored, but it took over a month to repair the telephone lines.

Some of the hotels are already open, catering to volunteers in the village.
Some restaurants are back in business.
The beach front had been cleared.
But the village has been shorn of its greenery.
Even though the government tries to enforce a 100 meter buffer zone, some of the beach-front digs are rebuilding in spite of warnings by the police and coastal conservation authorities.

Still uncertainty prevails over the village.
The village lives on hope.
Will tourism bounce back?

Update: November 2005
How do you think its in Unawatuna 10 months after the TSUNAMI?
The village has bounced back like no other place.

Within months “Open Now” signs were up in most places.
Restaurants were open.
Initially catered mostly to Volunteers.
But now most places are spruced up and waiting for the Euro winter to send droves of tourists looking for sunny places.
Right now we experience some heavy rain as usual at this time of the year [first week of November].

Mass of people who thronged to Unawatuna beach for the esala fest in July 2005
Mass of people who thronged to Unawatuna beach for the esala fest in July 2005
Most places are cleaned up lots of tents have disappeared, temporary houses had been built, ok everything isn’t hunky dory but life is getting back.

Sri lanka Tourists Board is releasing numbers of tourists coming over looks quite bright.
Many are booking up places for December/January peak time.

London SLTB Office quoted that some Britishers think we are still wallowing in tsunami mud and that it’s still flooded, this is a misconception.
The sea water was gone by the end of the day, flooding for weeks was in New Orleans after Katrina.

No out break of disease was reported in Sri Lanka after the tsunami.

After the presidential elections on 17th November, all tourism people will be awaiting the tourists to flow back.

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