Real people in the midst of a tragic disaster simply trying to survive

07/06/2016 – Kegalle, Sri Lanka: Over 2000 people continue to remain in temporary shelters in Aranayake after a massive landslide buried three villages in the surrounding areas. During the time of this incident there were around 220 families living in these villages and only 28 bodies have been recovered. Many of the villagers are feared buried alive from the landslide and in some instances the entire family. Government figures put around 99 people missing, but the actual number could be very high.

Nimal Suraweera is a 43 year old father two. He has a son who’s 7 year’s old and a daughter who’s 12 years old. All of them were living in the Siripura village on the foot of the Samasara mountain. Nimal is a farmer who cultivate spices such as cloves. His wife helps him out to do the cultivation. Not only do they cultivate spices they also own a patch of land in the now infamous Samasara mountain where they cultivate tea.

“When we don’t have enough money I engage in manual labour. I go and help out in masonry and try to find whatever I can in order to give my kids the best I could offer” says Nimal while his wife looks on.

“My son.. he was the joy of my life” … Nimal starts to cry while uttering those words. It’s indeed hard for him to fathom the pain he is undergoing right now, barely trying to understand as to what happened.

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On the 17th of May 2016, his wife and kids were all at home. It was raining non stop and everybody were indoors. When the rain ceased for few minutes Nimal told his wife he would run to the shop nearby in order to get a mobile card as the credit on his phone has run out. His wife said that she will join him as she wanted to get some groceries. Nimal’s wife Chandrika called her daughter Shashika and told her to take care of her brother until they return.

“She asked, mom can I come too?… and I said no… It’s the worst thing I have done in my life” says Chandrika.. visibly distorted and shaken.

Both Nimal and Chandrika left the house keeping their daughter in charge for about half an hour until they return. They wanted to get back before the next spell of rain began. When they reached the shop there were not much people around, so Nimal straight away asked the shopkeeper for a 100 rupee mobile card in order to recharge his phone.

“As soon as the Mudalali (shop keeper) handed me the card I heard a loud noise .. like a big chopper trying to land near the shop” says Nimal. “I was so puzzled and looked at my wife who was selecting some potatoes. I soon took the card and told Chandrika to come out. This noise was there for about a minute or so. I was inqusitive to know what that sound was. I came out and looked up, couldn’t see a chopper or anything of that sort.. then I looked towards the mountain, and all I saw was a big muddy patch. It didn’t take long for me to understand what the sound was. I screamed at Chandrika and said, we need to go, Putha (son) and Duwa (daughter) are at home. We ran and ran, and half way through, we couldn’t even find the place where we called home”

One side of the Samasara mountain that stood up for over centuries gave way and collapsed burying the three villages in the neighboring area. Many living here never got a chance to save their lives. Most were buried alive. Unfortunately so was the fate of Nimal’s and Chandrika’s only son and daughter.

“My husband started to scream and ran to the place where we thought our home was..  it was just a pile of mud and dirt.” says Chandrika. “Knowing that my only precious thing in this world is underneath that mud.. I just fainted.. When I came around I saw my husband frantically trying to dig from his hands trying to get to our children”

“We just wanted to save them”

Tragically the landslide buried Nimal’s house completely with mud over 7 to 8 feet.

Now both Nimal and Chandrika are housed at a Red Cross welfare camp near the Siripura area. They have been living in this place since the incident occurred. Red Cross psychological support experts have been talking with Nimal and Chandrika for some time in order to assist them to cope with this tragedy.

“I can’t even bury my children” says Chandrika… “the mountain took that away from me.”

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The Sri Lanka Red Cross with assistance from the Government and many partner national societies and corporate donors are implementing a programme that would help people like Nimal and Chandrika to restart their lives, despite it looks like an impossible task. Sri Lanka Red Cross in partnership with the International Federation of Red Cross & Red Crescent Societies  already made an international appeal requesting to raise 3.6 million dollars so that we can provide support in shelter, livelihoods, water and sanitation, psychosocial support and more so aiding communities to be more resilient.

Currently Nimal wants to engage in work in any way he can, in order to keep himself sane. “We don’t have anyone. Even now what we have is thanks to the Red Cross.. and we really hope the Red Cross will help us to rebuild our home our lives and our livelihoods”

Meanwhile Red Cross volunteers have been engaging in erecting temporary shelters for families to be resettled until permanent housing can be constructed. Accordingly over 200 families are to be relocated into to a temp camp site closer to Aranayake. The Red Cross is closely working with Government Authorities and other agencies in order to provide assistance to the people.

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