Looking back at December 26, 2004

Looking back at December 26, 2004

Looking back at December 26, 2004

Written by Staff Writer

26 Dec, 2016 | 9:39 pm

Twelve years ago – the world looked on in shock as the mighty waves of the Indian Ocean – formed into a tsunami and claimed the lives of over 250,000 people in fourteen countries, displacing millions more and decimated villages, towns and cities entirely.

6:58 a.m. – Sri Lankan time

People living around the Indonesian island of Sumatra were rudely awakened by a massive offshore earthquake which measured a colossal 9.0 on the Richter Scale.

Within 40 minutes, giant waves triggered by the earthquake 45 miles off the coast of Sumatra crashed into the Northern Province of Aceh, almost immediately claiming around 168,000 lives across Northern Sumatra and reducing homes to rubble.

The waves of the tsunami left a wake of destruction which cost the global economy approx. $14 billion (US).

A hitherto unknown phenomenon for many of those who witnessed the amazing power of a tsunami – the waves sped across the Indian ocean, engulfing the coasts of Jaffna, Killinochchi, Trincomalee, Ampara and Batticaloa within few hours, before moving towards the Southern and South Western coasts of the island.

By the time the mighty waves settled, it had already taken the lives of around 35,000 Sri Lankans’.

While entire communities were destroyed within a matter of minutes, today we remember the 26th December 2004 as a day when our nation stood together as one community, in the face of seemingly insurmountable tragedy.

December 26, 2016

We at News 1st together with the people of ‘Erora village‘ commemorated those who lost their lives and the families and communities torn apart by the disaster. A two minute silence was observed between 9:25 and 9:27 a.m. – in remembrance of the lives that were lost, followed by floral tributes to the deceased friends’ and families of those living in Erora.

“It has been 12 years. Personally I have used this life experience as a stepping stone. “

“I am not a person who would even leave my dog at home. I took my dog with me as well. It was tied and an animal too is a living being. That is why I took the dog with me. We were caught in the waters. Twelve people went into a house to save their lives. But only 10 people managed to escape. A small child and my aunt were washed away.”

“I had three children. I got onto the road carrying two children while the my eldest was on my shoulder. Those who were inside the house were buried underneath the walls that collapsed. The funerals were held 6 days later. The bodies had to be wrapped in mats.”


The Batticaloa District was the worst affected in Sri Lanka in terms of the number of lives lost.

Religious observances and memorial services were organised across the North East of the island today, in remembrance of those who perished.

locomotive number 591

locomotive number 591

6:30 a.m. – locomotive number 591

Largest single rail disaster in world history (by death toll)

Number of dead – 1,270
Number of missing – 141

Over a thousand people were killed when the mighty waves of the Indian Ocean hit the Peraliya railway-line.

Every year since the 26th of December 2008 – the salvaged and rebuilt locomotive number 591 and two of the carriages, have made a pilgrimage to the site of the disaster to take part in a religious ceremony and memorial.

Today – when the locomotive number 591 departed the fort railway station – absent was the atmosphere of hustle and bustle that prevailed on that fateful morning 12 years ago.

Thilakshani Maduwanthi News 1st

Thilakshani Maduwanthi
News 1st

News 1st’s Thilakshani Maduwanthi reports:

“1,500 people were killed in Peraliya when the waves struck the train and mangled the railway tracks. The main guard who survived the tragedy is with us today. What do you remember from that day?”

W. Karunatilaka (Main Guard): “The train left the station at the normal time and there was nothing unusual about the journey until the waves struck. At the time I was unaware of what was happening. People begun praying, the Buddhists chanted Pirith and Gatha, others prayed to their Gods, in the end, that was all we had left.”

W. Karunatilaka Main Guard Locomotive 591

W. Karunatilaka
Main Guard
Locomotive 591

Karunatilaka said that he took the surviving passengers to a nearby Temple following the tragedy.

“I reported to the Police and then went to my home which is on the coast of Weligama. My house too had been damaged by the waves. While I was cleaning my home, I heard on the radio that the main guard from the train was missing. I called the radio station and confirmed that I was still among the living.”

Thilakshani: “There must be some unforgettable memories within this experience?”

W. Karunatilaka: “There was a 16 year old boy who fetched panadol for the ailing passengers. Today he is a young man serving in the air force and he travels on this train. He always speaks to me when we meet.”

“I am reminded of the tragedy every time (he pass by Peraliya). When the tsunami struck, I was wearing this coat. To date, I have protected this uniform. There were foreigners who wanted to buy it from me, but I refused. This uniform is priceless to me.”

Thilakshani Maduwanthi – “12 years on, there is still a lesson from the tsunami that resonates with the people of Sri Lanka. Catastrophe does not bring life to a stop; we must always strive to rebuild our lives following tragedy. 12 years on, this lesson from the tsunami still rings true.”

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