Thousands of tsunami survivors lined up for the biggest free lunch buffet as Sri Lanka marked the third month anniversary of the worst natural disaster.
Buddhist flags were seen along the main Galle Road as private charities joined the Urban Council to organise a lunch for 10,000 people who survived the December 26 tsunami.
People tucked into local specialties of fish ambul thiyal, potato, dhal, brinjal, papdum and eggs. The Rs. 350,000 meal was prepared by an army of chefs and area troops and police were called in to ensure people queued up in an orderly manner.
The mayor, Manoj Krishantha Jayasuriya, said religious observances will be continued throughout the weekend to transfer merit to those who died in the tsunamis, a total of nearly 31,000 people across the country.
“We had about 8,500 families here displaced by the tsunami,” Jayasuriya said at a play ground where meals were served for survivors under a giant white canvass tent which could accommodate 400 diners at a single sitting.
A free health clinic organised here for the homeless had to be shifted further inland amid fears that there could be another sea surge, Jayasuriya said.
He said a government restriction on reconstruction within a 100 metre stretch of land along the coast was making it difficult for survivors to go back and rebuild their homes.
Even the local police station is within the 100 metre zone and technically cannot be rebuilt.
Volunteer Sandun Ranasinghe said the residents as well as other volunteers from outside were worried about reports that the sea was unusually rough and there could be another tsunami.
However, there were no unusual wave activity, but many people had left their make-shift homes and travelled inland fearing another sea surge, local police inspector Sunil Mohotti said.
Despite fears of another tsunami, large numbers turned up at the soup-kitchen which arranged free meals as part of religious services along the island’s coastal areas to mark the three month anniversary.
At a nearby temple, survivors offered electrical jug kettles, fruit blenders and food to 200 saffron-robed monks hoping to transfer merit to their loved ones who died in the December disaster.
An evening candle light vigil was held at the site where a train carrying as many as 1,500 passengers was hit by the tsunamis at Peralia, just south of here.
Only about 200 to 300 people survived when the train was submerged and washed away by the waves. At least 900 people were buried in a massa grave with none being identified.
Three compartments of the ‘Ocean Queen” train have been salvaged and put back on separate rails while eight other carriages had been towed to the nearby Kahawatte railway station.
The area was decorated with blue, orange, white, red and yellow Buddhist flags while pre-recorded prayers were broadcast over a local public address system.
Yamuna Guruge, an insurance saleswoman, said she and her nine-year-old daughter were still homeless three months after the disaster and did not believe that they would be helped by the state.
“We don’t have anything,” Guruge said while stood in the sweltering sun awaiting her turn to enter the soup kitchen. “Our house was damaged and what was left was looted.”
D. V. Niromi, the daughter of a vegetable seller, said they were lucky to escape, but had lost their livelihoods.
“Please take down my name. We haven’t got any help from the government,” she said.
Sri Lanka has received nearly a billion dollars in foreign aid pledges but according to the Central Bank of Sri Lanka the state has received only US$ 13 mn, a fraction of the US$ 1.5 bn needed for reconstruction across the island. – AFP