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Information sought for Welcome book

By Jeff Hansel

jhansel@postbulletin.com

A Rochester man on a tsunami relief mission in his homeland of Sri Lanka is experiencing devastation as he works to help residents.

"People are inflicted with a mass tsunami paranoia. They close homes and businesses and live up the hill near Buddhist temples at night," Nish Gunawardena, who raised almost $16,000 before he left the United States.

According to Sri Lanka national television, he said, only one refugee camp has epidemic diarrhea.

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"It is difficult to watch people, who lived in their houses built by the earnings of a lifetime, live in a small tent," Gunawardena said in an e-mail.

View of devastation

"So far, it is the worst devastation I have seen," Gunawardena said of the town of Kirinda. "A large ship lies some distance inland, carried by the waves. The loss of structure(s) and lives is of chilling proportions. There is no trace of the navy camp nearby."

In Kirinda, he said, "I met a man who lost his wife and four children. The fifth child survived. One family lost 90 members of the extended family." In the fishing village of Patanagala, buses rest atop trees, and vehicles are still stuck between rocks out in the sea. Vegetation is dead a mile from the sea from salt water.

"Little canal(s) were created when large trees were uprooted and dragged along the ground by the fast waves," Gunawardena said.

In the southern portion of Sri Lanka, Gunawardena saw a train in Galle where 900 people died.

"Ironically, some local residents hopped onto the train to escape the wave, but suffered the ill fate of the passengers," he said. "The place was surreal. It is by itself the largest train disaster in Sri Lankan history."

Too quiet

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Galle was once the commercial capital of the southern province. Now, the normally "busy and chaotic" fish market is quiet.

"I saw some video footage showing huddled schoolchildren being picked one by one by the tsunami," Gunawardena said. "The sound of the screams for life in the video tears one apart inside."

With the buildings and residents of many towns gone, it is hard to decide where to begin relief efforts, he said. His relief group is buying things such as gas cylinders, mattresses, furniture and small fishing boats.

"Strangely, people are reluctant to consume the fish, which (are believed) to have fed on humans, including their relative(s) and loved ones," Gunawardena said. Experts have said their fears are unwarranted.

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