We arrived in Sri Lanka late in the evening of December 23rd. We had worked hard on our itinerary wanting to make the most of our time there. In 2003, we had toured the island with our friend, Sareth and had promised each other that come New Year's Eve 2004/5 we would be at Yale Safari Lodge on the East Coast of the island.
The restaurant of the Lodge was built up on a platform and the only roof was the stars. We aimed to start travelling early in the morning of December 27th and stayed near to our friends in Mount Lavinia so that we could spend Christmas at their home.
Early on the morning of December 26th, we went down to the beach for the first time. Don had burned on our first day there and had been reluctant so after breakfast on the beach we found him a lounger under some palm trees right up at the top of the very wide beach. We noticed that the sea had gone a long way out but this did not mean anything to us. We had been to Mombassa several times and on occasion the sea had gone right out to the reef. We also knew that it was a full moon because of the resulting Buddhist holiday and thought that might affect the tide. Little did we realise how many more Sri families would be killed because it was a holiday and they were on the beach.
I left Don on his lounger and went for a walk down by the water's edge. I must have gone about a quarter of a mile when I met a fisherman. He warned me that there was something wrong with the sea. I told him that I knew the currents were strong and that I had no intention of going swimming. He said "No, madam, no -
As we reached it a huge surge of water almost knocked me over. He held me very tightly with one arm and he held on to a palm tree with the other. The villagers were all screaming as furniture and other possessions floated from their homes. They all started running back across the railway lines directly behind.
The fisherman took me back to the railway line and we stumbled along there until we came up behind Don. I shouted that there was something wrong but Don just thought I was crazy. At that point, from my higher vantage point I could see the sea rising in its bed. It just continued to rise and came towards us. Don scrambled up and we escaped the third and final wave, which took Don's lounger and smashed it to pieces as well as the entire interior of the restaurant where we had breakfast earlier.
Of 18 people on our beach, eight were killed.
We heard later that every single person at Yale Safari Lodge was killed.
Not one employee or tourist survived to tell the tale.
We stayed another 10 days going everyday to the Church and the Temple where the fishermens' families were seeking refuge. My fisherman (I now know his name is Colin) was there and his leg was badly injured. He was terrified he would lose it.
All the debris had to be burned and the stench of stagnation and worse was horrendous.
Although we were anxious to prove to our families that we were ok, leaving Sri Lanka was one of the hardest things we have ever done.
Things seemed too "normal" when we got home. People wished us "Happy New Year" and we felt like screaming. December 31st had been a National Day of Mourning in Sri Lanka and there had been no celebrations at midnight, no music or firecrackers. We stood with hundreds of locals and observed two minutes silence.