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Nine dead and 500,000 refugees
Cyclone wreaks havoc across northern Sri Lanka
By Vijitha Silva
4 January 2001
this version to print
In the early morning of December 26, a severe cyclone swept
from the Bay of Bengal across the Northern, North Central and
Eastern provinces of Sri Lanka with winds of up to 180kph. At
least nine people are dead and more than half a million people
were forced to flee their homes. An estimated 83,000 houses have
been either damaged or destroyed.
In Vavuniya, a 14-year-old student was killed when he was hit
by a falling tree and an elderly person died of exposure in the
appalling weather conditions. Four out of five victims in the
Polonnaruwa district died before they could be treated in hospital
as the cyclone had rendered many roads impassable. Power lines
were brought down, electricity transformers damaged and 3,000
telephone systems disrupted.
Along the coast huge waves lashed towns and fishing villages.
Eight fishermen are missing, feared dead. In the Chillaw area
on the west coast, 109 boats have been washed out to sea. At Kinnia
in the east, 2,000 houses were completely destroyed and at least
25 fishing boats anchored in the harbour have been wrecked.
The torrential downpour of between 100mm to 200mm caused many
tanks [man-made lakes], rivers, canals and other waterways to
overflow in areas already devastated by monsoonal flooding in
mid-November. Trincomalee, Batticaloa, Ampara, Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa,
Mannar and surrounding districts were all affected by the storms.
Worst hit were areas near the eastern port of Trincomalee.
At least 57 people have been admitted to Trincomalee hospital
after being hit by trees or falling debris. According to local
officials, 6,600 homes have been completely destroyed.
In the Batticaloa district, more than 5,000 families have been
left homeless. The Ottawavadi, Wakarai and Eravur Estate areas
have been seriously damaged by the floods and 25,000 acres of
crops have been destroyed. Many of the camps for war refugees
have been submerged, creating a fresh disaster for the impoverished
residents who lack basic necessities.
The cyclone also struck areas in the north and east under the
control of the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE)
but there are no reports of the impact. The storms and flooding
will only have compounded what is already a difficult situation
for many people living in these districts. Medicine, food and
other essential goods are in short supply as a result of government-imposed
Prior to the cyclone the Sri Lankan government issued a last
minute warning calling on people to leave the affected areas but
it had no evacuation plan. After the storms hit the government
took no steps to provide relief to the thousands of refugees until
On December 27, amid media criticism of the slow response,
Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickremanayake summoned a meeting of
government officials and announced an increase in relief funds.
President Kumaratunga, speaking from London, also said that she
was personally following relief efforts. After returning to Sri
Lanka she visited cyclone-affected areas in North Central Province
to try to quell growing dissatisfaction.
The aid, however, remains small. A family of five or more gets
500 rupees ($US5.50) for a week's dry rations. Smaller families
receive less. The families of those who died will receive 15,000
rupees ($US183) in compensation and those whose homes have been
damaged or destroyed will receive just 10,000 rupees. Government
servants will only be given an interest free loan to rebuild.
According to one press report, a street protest took place
in Trincomalee on December 27 over the lack of aid. The demonstrations
continued when Social Services Minister Milroy Fernando visited
Trincomalee to explain the government's relief plans. Most of
the victims are poor farmers and fishermen who can least afford
the loss of their homes and in some cases their livelihood.
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Government leaves thousands of flood victims in eastern Sri Lanka
without adequate aid
[1 December 2000]
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