On the 11th of April 2012 we were sitting beachside on the South Coast of Sri Lanka when an 8.6 magnitude quake rocked the Indian Ocean. We were in the remote village of Ahangama 3km from the city of Galle when the Sri Lanka tsunami warning sirens sounded across the region. We had just sat to order lunch at our hotel having arrived from an 8-hour journey from Bangkok.
As panic ensued we reluctantly abandon our shots of local ‘arrack’ liquor to follow terrified waiters to the roadside. The organisation was shambolic. Expecting to be evacuated by hotel staff we find it obvious this would not happen. The hotel manager disappeared in a passing vehicle leaving us with two clueless staff. “What do we do?”. One of the remaining hotel workers points to a distant pole and says “climb it”. With my elderly mum in tow, this wasn’t really an option.
As pole climbing was no less than insane we opted to blag seats on a fleeing tour bus (Gecko’s Tours) to join the Sri Lanka Tsunami Evacuation.
Sanctuary with a Betel Chewing Villager
The bus joined crowds of deserting locals pushing north into Sri Lanka’s rainforests. Two miles inland the driver pulled up where a betel-chewing villager greeted us with tea and shared his TV for tsunami updates. As Tsunamis are too unpredictable no one could feel safe and rumours of possible looting forced a tour guide’s return to protect the hotel planning to climb ‘the pole’ at the first sign of a wave.
When things appear safe there was a further newsflash. An 8.2 magnitude aftershock hit the Indian Ocean and the Sri Lanka Tsunami warning continued. The tour guide returns with treats of Pepsi and Lemon Puff biscuits. I spend my hours exploring surrounding gardens and rainforests documenting fruit, spices and wildlife.
It was four hours before we return to the coast. Too dangerous to pack and leave. Arrack cocktails and Lion Lager failed to ease tensions with fear of further Tsunami warnings and aftershocks at back of mind. The anxiety continues through the night as waves crash and palms rattle around our beachfront guestrooms.
The Following Morning
Our whale watching and island hopping plans were cancelled as we joined the tourist exodus of Sri Lanka’s South Coast in the morning. We draw up a new South Sri Lanka Tour Itinerary. The new plan was to return to Colombo via the tea mountains of Ella and Sri Lanka’s cultural capital of Kandy. For a slightly more exciting (exaggerated) account of our Sri Lanka Tsunami Warning experience, we made page 3 in our local Newspaper.