Time in UAE helps tsunami survivor rebuild back home

Sudam Gamage, 35, lost his mother and his family home in the tsunami of 2004.
Sugith Gamage, Sudam Gamage’s younger brother, stands beside his destroyed family home after the tsunami in Midigama, Sri Lanka. Courtesy Sudam Gamage
Sugith Gamage, Sudam Gamage’s younger brother, stands beside his destroyed family home after the tsunami in Midigama, Sri Lanka. Courtesy Sudam Gamage

ABU DHABI // A survivor of the 2004 tsunami has thanked the UAE for helping him rebuild his life.

Sudam Gamage, 35, lost his mother and his family home in the tsunami of 2004.

He has managed to bounce back thanks to support from friends and well-wishers and his employment in the UAE.

He recalled the horrors of that day 10 years ago when the giant waves hit his community.

He was a university student in Colombo at the time and was visiting his home village, Midigama south of the country.

“My house was just two metres away from the coastal line,” Mr Gamage said.

“I did not notice any abnormalities in the ocean when I was leaving home. I reached the railway station and joined the queue to get a ticket. It was around 9.15am.

“Suddenly, I noticed people running towards the station saying that the seawater is entering the land,” he said.

Gamage tried calling his brother, but phone lines were already down.

“I managed to reach the top of the pedestrian bridge on the railway station and saw the most horrifying scene of my life. Dead bodies were floating everywhere,” he said.

He realised that his family was in trouble and started running home, leaving his shoes and bag at the station.

“When I reached home, I could not see anything. It was completely washed away. For about an hour, I ran around the village looking for my family. I managed to find my father and brother, but my mother was nowhere to be found,” Mr Gamage said.

He discovered his mother’s body near a river bank later that day.

“We all were out of our minds. I could not even shed a single tear for my mother. My eyes had completely dried out,” he said.

After burying his mother, Mr Gamage and his father and brother went back home to collect any remains. They didn’t find anything.

“The only thing we were able to find was my mother’s watch,” he said.

Since it was a holiday week, there were many tourists in his village, famous for surfing.

Many villagers who worked elsewhere were also visiting home.

“Fortunately, not a single tourist was hurt on this deadly day. But almost every household in the village lost someone,” Mr Gamage said.

It has not been easy for Mr Gamage and his family members to start a new life.

“We are still coping with the damage that the tsunami caused us, both emotionally and materially,” he said.

However, he is grateful to friends and tourists who helped them to rebuild their home, which they run as a guesthouse.

Mr Gamage moved to the UAE to support his family in 2010. He is now married with two young daughters.

“We might have rebuilt our house again, but it will never be our home. Home is all about one’s mother. There can be no home without a mother,” he said.

“Even a decade later, everything in my village still haunts me. It is very painful for me to return to a place where the tsunami took away everything, even my mother,” he said.

akhaishgi@thenational.ae

Published: December 25, 2014 04:00 AM

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