The tsunami slammed into a train that had come to a halt on the outskirts of a tiny fishing village, hurling a dozen cars across the countryside into coconut groves, fields and...
GALLE, Sri Lanka — The tsunami slammed into a train that had come to a halt on the outskirts of a tiny fishing village, hurling a dozen cars across the countryside into coconut groves, fields and flimsy huts.
The train wreck in Hikkaduwa, about 12 miles northwest of Galle, appears to have been the single most destructive incident in a country that bore the brunt of the tsunami that swept across the Indian Ocean on Sunday. Two and a half days after the disaster, authorities were still pulling bodies from the twisted wreckage of carriages, some of which ended up a mile from the railway line.
One thousand tickets were sold in Colombo for the train ride, and rescuers have recovered 802 bodies, military spokesman Brig. Daya Ratnayake said. Although 1,000 people had tickets, it was not known how many people actually were on the train. Police superintendent B.P.B. Ayupala said more bodies could be buried beneath the compartments.
“There were very few survivors,” Gunasena Hewavitharana, the chief government representative in this southern port city, said after touring the accident site by helicopter. In addition to directing relief efforts, Hewavitharana also was looking for his sister and niece who were on board the 7:15 a.m. express when it was derailed by an estimated 30-foot tsunami. The train was named Samudradevi, or Queen of the Sea.
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No relatives claimed 204 of the recovered bodies, so they were buried in a mass grave yesterday, with Buddhist monks performing traditional funeral rites. They chanted and poured water on the grave to symbolize the giving of merits of the living to the dead.
Venerable Baddegama Samitha, a Buddhist monk and former parliamentarian who presided over the ritual, said he realized some of the dead were of other faiths — the region has a large Muslim community — and a moment’s silence was held to honor them.
“This was the only thing we could do,” he said. “It was a desperate solution. The bodies were rotting. We gave them a decent burial.”
Officials estimate that 4,000 people have been killed in Southern Province around Galle, out of an already-confirmed nationwide death toll of more than 21,700. An additional 40,000 are homeless. Officials say 685 bodies were recovered yesterday in Galle alone, including several dozen foreigners.
Hundreds of foreign tourists stranded in outlying areas are arriving in this historic Dutch fortress city, which has become the headquarters of an international evacuation effort. Many have harrowing stories of being crushed beneath falling masonry or dashed against the rocks by the tsunami.
Many tourists lost their possessions and travel documents. “I have nothing, just 75 euros. My passport is gone, my tickets are gone — but the most important thing is that I’m alive,” said Holger Resch, a German tourist who was swept away by the water while jogging on the beach.
The southern coast of Sri Lanka is a magnet for foreign surfers, many of whom were caught on the waves when the tsunami struck.
Stories circulated of an Australian surfer known to everybody simply as Tim, who had the longest ride of his surfing career, ending up hundreds of yards inland. He used his surfboard to rescue travelers from an overturned bus in a waterlogged field, according to the accounts.