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It Seemed Like a Scene From the Bible

By Michael Dobbs
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 27, 2004; Page A01

WELIGAMA, Sri Lanka, Dec. 26 -- Disaster struck with no warning out of a faultlessly clear blue sky.

I was taking my morning swim around the island that my brother Geoffrey, a businessman, had bought on a whim a decade ago and turned into a tropical paradise 200 yards from one of the world's most beautiful beaches.


A woman grieves over the loss of her house on the coast near Colombo, Sri Lanka, after it was struck by a tsunami from an earthquake in Indonesia. (Eranga Jayawardena -- AP)

__ Tsunami in South Asia __

Casualty Map
Track the path of destruction in an animated map and view updated casualty reports.

How to Help Victims

_____ Rebuilding Weligama _____

The Post's Dobbs
writes of his own experiences and efforts to help rebuild a Sri Lanka community.

_____ On the Scene _____

Photo Gallery: Return to School
Photo Gallery: Tsunami Aftermath
Satellite Images: Banda Aceh

'Like a Scene From the Bible'
The Post's Michael Dobbs describes his experience in Sri Lanka.
Transcript: A First Person Account
Video: Dobbs Recounts Experience
More Tsunami Coverage
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I was a quarter way around the island when I heard my brother shouting at me, "Come back! Come back! There's something strange happening with the sea." He was swimming behind me, but closer to the shore.

I couldn't understand what the fuss was about. All seemed peaceful. There was barely a ripple in the sea. My brother's house rests on a rock 60 feet above the level of the sea.

Then I noticed that the water around me was rising, climbing up the rock walls of the island with astonishing speed. The vast circle of golden sand around Weligama Bay was disappearing rapidly, and the water had reached the level of the coastal road, fringed with palm trees.

As I swam to shore, my mind was momentarily befuddled by two conflicting impressions -- the idyllic blue sky and the rapidly rising waters.

In less than a minute, the water level had risen at least 15 feet, but the sea remained calm, with barely a wave in sight.

Within minutes, the beach and the area behind it had become an inland sea that rushed over the road and poured into the flimsy houses on the other side. The speed with which it all happened seemed like a scene from the Bible, a natural phenomenon unlike anything I had experienced.

As the waters rose at an incredible rate, I half expected to catch sight of Noah's Ark.

Instead of the ark, I grabbed a wooden catamaran that the local people used as a fishing boat. My brother jumped on the boat next to me. We bobbed up and down on the catamaran as the water rushed past us into the village beyond the road.

After a few minutes, the water stopped rising, and I felt it was safe to swim to the shore. What I did not realize was that the floodwaters would recede as quickly and dramatically as they had risen.

All of a sudden, I found myself being swept out to sea with startling speed. Although I am a fairly strong swimmer, I was unable to withstand the current. The fishing boats around me had been torn from their moorings, and were bobbing up and down furiously.

For the first time, I felt afraid, powerless to prevent myself from being washed out to sea.

I swam in the direction of a loose catamaran, grabbed the hull and pulled myself to safety. My weight must have slowed the boat down, and soon I was stranded on the sand.


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