This is the first chance I have had to either call or email. As you can imagine, it is/has been quite traumatic and chaotic here right now. It has been for days. We are now in the centre of the island in Kandy – away from the ocean. I’m sorry I didn’t call you, but we only managed to call on someone esle’s cell-phone and I wasn’t sure if you would have heard the news (remember you always say you avoid the news) and I didn’t really know exactly how big this tsunami was.
We are ok physically. I am pretty traumatised though. When the tidal wave hit, we were having our last surf lesson and so were in the water when everything first happened.
A lot happened, I’ve just written it all down today as a way of dealing with it because I am still very upset and scared. Basically we rode out the first huge wave on our boards and stayed above the water/wave while everyone else was being swept away and everything was being destroyed. Then the water pulled back out of the bay we were in and we barely managed to avoid being swept out to sea with the current. We landed on the beach after the first surge, but couldn’t go ashore because another wave was coming, our surf instructor told us that it was a matter of life and death that we stay away from the shore so we started heading back towards the water before it surged back in. We really didn’t know what to do. Unfortunately we had to cross some flood waters as they ran back from the inland to the sea – it was filled with mud, sand and debris. We were still attached to our surf boards and I was swept under the mud by my board in the middle of the river. I have to say that I did almost drown – I had the thought in my head that this was such a stupid way to die. Luckily, because I was still attached to my board (even though it had sucked me under in the first place) I was eventually pulled up to the surface with it before I blacked out. I managed to pull my board to me and flopped on top of it until I could breathe again, then started trying to look for Ran. He had jumped in after me and had taken off his surf leash so I was worried that he’d drowned. I couldn’t find him, the second big wave came in and I was pushed on to the shore because I was too exhausted to fight the surge. I was able to catch some branches before hitting very much, then got off of my board and starting screaming for help. Some Sinhalese man ran up to me and led me to a 3-storey building where there were about 20 people on the roof. The waves came in and out for almost 2 hours and every time there were people being caught in it – I can’t really describe the sounds and what it was like. I couldn’t find Ran – though I thought I saw him about 1 km out in the bay being swept by the current out to sea. Then I couldn’t see him (or what I thought was him) anymore. No one could really help me – the other people I was with were gone and all the boats had either been smashed on the shore or pulled out to sea. After some time the surf instructor (Yannick) came up the road during one of the times the water surged out of the bay and he was thrilled to see that I was alive. I was pretty hysterical by that time though and was trying to get back to the beach to find Ran. Yannick went out on his surf board to look for Ran three times – one time bringing in a body that all these Sinhalese assholes were telling me was my lost husband. I spent at least 2 hours pacing the shore with the water coming in and out destroying things every time, looking for Ran or his surf board (but I knew if I just saw his surf board that would mean that he wasn’t attached to it so he would be dead) – I think I know a little bit about what hell must be like. I kept feeling that I was waiting so long and that I couldn’t wait any longer, but then I thought if he was dead I would be waiting forever. I have never been so afraid or for so long in my life. Finally Yannick and this other woman we were surfing with pulled me away from the spot I’d last seen Ran and tried to get me up the road toward higher ground – and after about 5 min. we spotted Ran walking down the road towards us. It was probably one of those really cheesy Hallmark moments where a couple runs crying towards each other. I have never been so happy to see anyone before – I really did think he had died.
Ran, it turns out, had been swept away from his surf board after he jumped in the flood waters when I was sucked under – he had taken off his surf leash so initially he was also in danger of drowning, but as luck would have it, he spotted his board and managed to cling to it long enough to re-strap the leash to his wrist. He couldn’t get out of the current pulling out of the bay, so was sucked at least 2 km. off shore – he managed to angle his board towards one of the fishing boats that had been swept away, and pulled himself on board. No one was on the boat, so he broke a couple doors and managed to drop the anchor, but it didn’t really catch the ground. He stayed on the boat trying to figure out how to start the engine or make the rudder work – neither of which worked. After some time he said he was being pushed by the waves towards an island and was afraid the boat would crash on the rocks around it but he couldn’t do anything to stop this from happening. He was frantically waving at other people also stuck on other boats, but no one could really control their boats. Finally, miraculously, the surge stabilised before his boat hit the rocks and a rescue boat was able to reach him. He was picked up and taken a couple of km along the shore from where I was and we just happened to be walking towards each other.
The entire coast was hit and the south and east coasts the worst. All of the hotels and guesthouses in the area were right on the beach, so many foreigners either were swept into the surge during the first wave or lost everything when their hotels collapsed. There is no electricity or phone (there are no poles or lines left), most of the roads are either completely or partially wiped out and huge portions of the train tracks are destroyed. There is no drinking water and nothing to eat except Coke and biscuits. We eventually walked the 5 km down the ‘road’ through the devastation to where our hotel was. It was 2-storeys tall, and luckily we had a room on the second floor – everything on the first floor was gone, the motorcycle we rode down from Kandy was found up a tree (destroyed), but our money and passports were in a safe untouched. We were able to run upstairs briefly (not long because the building was unstable) to get these things and as many clothes as we could grab in a minute then we just had to leave. We didn’t know what to do and every 5 minutes people would freak out again and say another tidal wave was coming, but the only way to get around is a path/road right by the ocean. We very very nervously ran back down the road with the sea threatening to surge again to where our surf instructor, Yannick, lives – he found us a family with a house about 2 km in the jungle away from the ocean and we all huddled there for the night. I was covered with mud still and couldn’t rinse any of it off because there wasn’t any water to waste for washing. The radio started reporting what happened, how many people had died, that there was a likelihood of another tidal wave if an aftershock hit hard enough – Ran sat up all night anxious over seeing me getting sucked under the mud and I dozed then woke up every few minutes thinking I heard people running and screaming away from the next tidal wave. When morning finally came we went back to the road by the shore – another Sinhalese family tried to help us find a way to get inland but the petrol was running out quickly. We finally decided to walk to the nearest town with a small road leading inland, then once we got there we started asking around there for someone to let us get in their car as everyone continued to try to get as far from the water as possible. It was very harrowing because the police kept broadcasting that another tidal wave could be coming and we couldn’t seem to get very far from the water. Finally some people in a Tata truck felt sorry enough for us that they let us sit in the back of their truck as they drove inland. This couple was EXTREMELY nice to us – they drove us first to their mother’s house inland and fed us (we’d been living on Coke and crackers for about a day and a half), then drove us inland further to where we could find a hotel for the night.
All of the tourists and locals who can are now desperately going inland so it’s difficult to find anywhere to stay. We had to look around for a few hours yesterday when we arrived in Kandy before we found a place. We’ll be staying at this dumpy hotel until tomorrow then we can transfer to the nice hotel we booked before we arrived. We’ll stay here until Jan.2 then take a train into Negombo, stay the night there and leave the morning of the 3rd.
I am having a hard time with the fact that I am ok and Ran is ok and how it happened. I don’t feel like I made all the right decisions, I keep replaying when I got sucked under the water and want to find a way to make it through that without me almost drowning. I also am having a difficult time with the fact that so many people are dead and I saw so much of it. I saw babies and women and men, house after house completely demolished, tiny kittens and puppies are wandering around and I want to save them. There is also a big gulf between the Sinhalese people and us, it seems like they feel like we couldn’t possibily have been affected by this and often scoff at us when we tell them what happened. I know that the only reason we are both still alive is due to luck – but I also know I more lucky because I can afford to leave the coast before all the diseases hit and can fly back to my comfortable life. This morning was the first time I was able to see the news – it happened to be horrible CNN – they showed video after video of the first wave surging in with people dying and things being destroyed – I was not able to watch more than a few minutes before running back to my hotel room crying. I think this is not something I’ll get over quickly. I don’t know what to do now on my ‘vacation’ –