Sri Lankans in UAE still suffer effects of 2004 Tsunami

Sri Lankans in the UAE who lost properties and relatives in 2004 tsunami are still struggling to rebuild their half-finished houses back home.

Mohammed Maheer survived the Sri Lankan tsunami and still works towards rebuilding his home. Christopher Pike / The National
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ABU DHABI // Ten years ago on Friday one of the worst natural disasters the world has ever witnessed struck the coastline of the Indian Ocean killing at least 230,000 people in 14 countries.

Sri Lanka was one of those countries worst hit by the tsunami with the lives of about 35,000 residents and tourists being claimed. And a decade on, Sri Lankans in the UAE who lost relatives and homes in the disaster are still struggling to rebuild their lives.

Abu Dhabi resident Mohammed Maheer, 40, said: “My family was there and had to flee their home when it happened to save themselves. But unfortunately my uncle was killed.

“We can’t think of that horrifying catastrophe that took everything from us. There was nothing left. My home was washed away entirely – all the properties were erased.”

Because of his low salary – he earns Dh2,000 a month as an officer assistant – it has taken a long time for Mr Maheer to complete the construction work over the years.

“I continued to save money to reconstruct my home and support my family,” he said. Despite offers for help, Mr Maheer said he was determined to fund the rebuilding of his home himself. Mr Maheer said: “I know UAE’s people are very generous but I didn’t want to extend hands, and I am determined to rebuild and restart my life by my own.

“All praise to Allah, now I have made it to some extent,” said Mr Maheer, who was in Abu Dhabi when disaster happened.

“Until now, we don’t have all infrastructure in place and face too many problems. To construct a home it takes years of hardship to shape up and it’s not that easy to immediately restructure.”

Randeep Bodiyadu, a Sri Lankan supervisor at Adnoc who has lived in Abu Dhabi for 14 years, was also affected. “My uncle’s entire family died in the disaster – my uncle, auntie and their two children,” he said.

He said that after the disaster, he rushed back home to find his community devastated.

“Don’t ask about properties, nothing was left there, ” he said.

Mr Bodiyadu said after 10 years, the majority of the homes had been rebuilt thanks to humanitarian support.

“For one month [after the tsunami] we had collected humanitarian support in the UAE and delivered it to them.

“Believe me, after my work at 3pm, I remained awake until 2am every day for one month to collect financial support for families,” he said.

His fund-raising managed to raise enough money to support 50 affected families, he said. The funding for them continues to this day.

Mr Bodiyadu’s home was about 10 kilometres away from the coast, whereas his uncle lived about 100 metres from the sea.

Another Sri Lankan, Hashmat Nauf, 37, said: “I don’t want to even remember those horrifying scenes as entire villages were washed away.”

Ten years later, everything is back to normal, said Mr Nauf, who has lived in the UAE for five years.

After the disaster, he spent a month working in the southern province of Sri Lanka to support families. However, as his own home was situated far from the sea, it was undamaged.