Pawadamasari fished for 35 years from a harbor where a sign
reads, "Welcome to Tourist Paradise." He rarely mixed with the
mostly German tourists other than to sell his catch.
He lived quietly with wife and daughters in a straw hut that is
now gone. A son-in-law is missing and presumed dead. Now a refugee
in a crowded Buddhist temple, Pawadamasari seems unaccustomed to
speaking with strangers. But he wants to anyway.
"I am here. I am waking up. But I can't think," he says, pointing
to his white bristled hair. "I can't think through anything. I can't
think what will happen next."
Despite what officials are describing as a new "postemergency
phase" of the tsunami that laid waste to 700 miles of Sri Lankan
coastline, locals here say the central issue is still a paralyzing
mentality of fear. On the street, rumors of another tsunami are
rife, and there is little official information broadcast to counter
it. Speculation swirls about outbreaks of disease, and mixes with
newly confirmed reports of scattered riots and banditry. There is no
community spirit yet of picking up the pieces and getting on with
life. Instead, some 1.5 million displaced persons are heading inland
in a coastal exodus that is creating new logistical problems.
"If you talk about the real crisis now, it is the rumors and
fears running in the people's minds," says Atula Hewawitharana, the
harbor master in Galle. "People are still scared, and will not show
up to help."
Three days ago a radio station in Tamil Nadu, India, broadcast a
report that an aftershock had created another tsunami. Some 200
villagers employed by Mr. Hewawitharana, who were helping with
salvage operations, ran away and did not come back. On Saturday, a
similar rumor caused a panic for several hours on the east coast.
Fish is a staple for most Sri Lankans, but Sunday seafood prices
plunged as many people feared that the fish had fed on human flesh
and would be contaminated. But health officials said that was
untrue. "Scientifically, there's nothing to prove that fish caught
after the tsunami cannot be consumed," Health Minister Nimal
Siripala de Silva told The Associated Press. "It's only a
psychological myth that I'm sure will pass with time."
Galle's local health ministry chief, Plyasena Samarakoon, says,
"We need people to go home. That is a prerequisite for any return to
normalcy. A lot of people still have livable houses or relatives
they can stay with. But people aren't ready for that. They are
Aid to Sri Lanka is now flooding into the national airport 24
hours a day on wide-bodied jets; the number of volunteer doctors
from around the globe are so numerous that the Sri Lankan government
has asked that no more be sent.
Yet here in Galle - Sri Lanka's second city, with its stucco
resorts, Dutch colonial fortress, and famed cricket grounds (now
destroyed) - people continue to stand all day outside homes, many
experiencing what relief workers say is a profound disorientation.
The fishing and tourist industry, 80 percent of the south coast
economy, has been wiped out. Many people describe a fear of the
ocean, and well as a fear of looting at night - two jails were
washed out, and about 200 prisoners escaped. …