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Sri Lanka January 2005

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(click the images for larger photographs)
Like the 1200 other people crammed into the displaced people’s centre in Kallady-Dutch Bar in Batticaloa district, eastern Sri Lanka, the Kanaharathnam family remain in shock nearly four weeks after the Boxing Day tsunami overwhelmed Sri Lanka’s coastline, taking with it thousands of lives, homes and livelihoods.
Rajan (30), a fisherman, has already visited his former home, where his parents, parents-in-law and daughter were among many family members swept to their deaths on December 26th. He is taking his wife Jayasethre (23), sister Santhirakala (25) and his daughter Rajokshana (9) back to the scene of the disaster for the first time.
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Jayasethre ‘I am scared walking back to my home for the first time. The whole area looks like a burned grave yard.
‘On the day it happened the waves came and picked us up – I held tightly onto Rosaline my four-year-old daughter. ‘We were being swept around and around. My daughter said to me: ‘Mamma, the water is salty’.
‘We were floating high up near the tops of the trees. Rosaline kept swallowing water and choking. She died while I was holding her, then I could not hold her any longer and had to let her go. I cried and thought that I was going to die too.’
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Rajan: ‘This was my aunt’s home. She, her husband and two children were killed.’
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Jayasethre: ‘Our clothes and our money are around’ here somewhere, or the waves have taken them away. We have lost everything. Whether we live or die, we don’t mind.’
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Santhirakala: ‘My uncle shouted to be to grab hold of the top branches of this tree.
The sea had picked me up and I was floating with only my head above the water. I wasn't able to hold onto my 18-month-old son Theelepan. The water ripped him from my arms.
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Rajan: ‘For a fisherman I was well off because I employed other fishermen. We will never recover this loss. Before this we were happy and we enjoyed our life, now life is terrible. We have only the clothes we were wearing on that day and items given to us in the refugee camp. It would take me 25 years to get enough money to have the house I have lost. We have nothing.’
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Rajan:. ‘On the days before the tsunami I had caught plenty of fish, so I was attending the market in the town with my daughter Rajokshana.
‘I had two outboards motor boats and 17 other smaller boats, employing 40 people. When the wave came it killed 100 people in those 40 families.’
'We have been fishermen for generations in this family. I do not know whether the government will let us come back to live here.’
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Rajokshana: ‘‘My bedroom was there. I won’t be able to sleep there any more.’
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Rajan: ‘We have no possessions, no money, no home or boats. I would like to start work again but without money I cannot go back to fishing.’
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Four hundred metres from her home, Santhirakala finds one of her petticoats in the rubble. ‘This is the only thing of mine that I've found.’