By Humphrey Carter
MAJORCA residents Paul Heaton and local cricket star Yaseen Hijazy have just returned from Tsunami-stricken Sri Lanka where they have been since before the killer waves hit the island.
They both admit they are very lucky. On Boxing Day, the day the tsunami struck South East Asia, they were at a wedding in Matale, in the middle of the island, and not where they would have usually spent Boxing Day, on the beaches of Galle in the south west which was severely damaged by the seaquake. The railway lines were buckled and a load of coaches and cars ended up in the middle of Galle cricket pitch, the water was 40 feet deep in some parts of the city.
It was quite amazing, even the engines and rolling stock was thrown 100 metres, Yaseen and Paul explained yesterday.
Paul is a frequent visitor to Sri Lanka with his wife and Yaseen flits between his homes in Majorca and Sri Lanka.
Both plan to return in a few months to help rebuild the tsunami-hit parts of the island. We've got people on the ground working with aid agencies and we plan to go back as soon as possible and help. I'm a hands on person and I want to do something, Paul said.
They both felt a tremor in the capital early on the morning of Boxing Day, but it was not until a good few hours later that people became fully aware of what had happened. Calls for aid were put out on the loud speakers around the city; the authorities were asking for medicine, food, clothes and empty bottles for water, said Yaseen then we started seeing pictures on the tv and everyone was just stunned, shocked.
There was a coastal village up the east coast near Tricomalee where I had some friends among the 3'000-strong population, there's nothing left now, no village and no people, said Yaseen. I still feel the pain, he said.
Paul said it was very frustrating we weren't allowed to do anything, they closed off all the access roads, those which were still serviceable to the coastal regions hit by the quake were only open to official aid and government workers. The main concern was to prevent the spread of disease but they responded and acted very well and there have been no epidemics.
But the biggest danger in the north held by the Tamil rebels are the mine fields and the thousands of land mines which have been moved by the strong flood.
Only the north west of Sri Lanka escaped the tsunami and over in the north east, not only were whole villages, populations and hospitals full of patients washed away, so too were large areas of land.
The country is still traumatised, but it will recover quickly, they are very resiliant people.
The north east was only just starting to recover from the Christmas monsoons and heavy flooding, added Yaseen.
Paul said that, because it was only the coastal areas hit, the main heart of the island, in particular the water plants and wells, was able to operate as usual and that enabled the emergency services to deal with the situation relatively well. However, the initial response was slow; the government was on holiday and the country was not prepared for such a disaster, well nowhere was.
The foreign community has been quick to help Sri Lanka. The Americans are rebuilding the roads, the Germans the railways and the Belgians the water supply while Japanese quake experts are going to advise the reconstruction of buildings and the coastal resorts. But the island will never be the same again, the coastal resorts, those left standing, have lost their charm and beauty - all the old fishing shacks and beach huts have all gone and now, no more properties can be built within 300 metres of the beaches and it will all be concrete redevelopment, said Paul.
Yaseen said that the fishing industry has also been practically wiped out.
The fishing communities lived in the sea and on the beaches - most of them have all gone - they used to fish at night and sell their fresh fish on the beach in the morning...along with the poor who lived in the coastal shanty towns, they've suffered most, added Yaseen.
Paul said that the main concern is that the aid operation is carried out properly and that the money goes to the right places, for example, the reconstruction of the coastal infrastructure because until the roads and railways are rebuilt, the aid will not be able to get through.
Just throwing money at Sri Lanka will solve nothing, he said it invariably ends up in the wrong hands.
Tension between the Tamil rebels in the north and the government is not helping.
The Tamils are refusing to allow aid into their region unless they can distribute it themselves.
For the first few days after the tsunami there was a real sense of hope, hope that the north and south would unite and work together, but sadly that has not happened and the domestic political situation is the same as it has been for years, said Paul.
But some good will come out of this disaster, well I hope so, added Yaseen.