Recalling the tsunami’s toll on Sri Lanka.
A SCOTS minister has recalled how the tsunami brought death and destruction to the island where he had set up home.
Rev John Purves, 66, had been in Sri Lanka for little over a year when the tsunami struck.
He found himself at the centre of relief efforts in a country in which at least 30,000 people died and 300,000 were made homeless.
“It’s in these circumstances that you know what life’s about,” he said.
Now retired and living in North Ayrshire, he was the Church of Scotland minister of St Andrew’s Scots Kirk in Colombo, Sri Lanka.
A few months into his placement, he had been in hospital with a fever and was told to take things easy for a while.
On the 26th, a Sunday, he gave a morning service before setting off with his wife for a beach holiday on the other side of the island.
He said: “It was only around 6pm in the evening, as we arrived at our beach resort, that we discovered there was no hotel.
“Like many other hotels on the coast of the island, it had been swamped by the wave. Some people had drowned, everything was damaged or destroyed.
“There were boats halfway up the driveway, there were cars on rooftops, sofas and bed frames in the tennis courts, there were fishing boats in the trees.”
Mr Purves, who also had been in Jamaica in the 1980s when it was hit by a hurricane, said his first emotion was one of “unreality – that this is not true”.
Colombo was largely untouched so the church hall was turned into a warehouse for collecting donations of emergency supplies.
‘”The next three months we just worked every day, all day,” he said.
The Scottish public gave £2.7 million to help survivors of the disaster following an appeal by the Scottish Catholic International Aid Fund (SCIAF).
The charity’s director Alistair Dutton travelled to Sri Lanka to help set up the emergency response and recently revisited the country.
He said: “I will never forget driving into the disaster zone. Everything had been destroyed. It was very eerie.
“Bodies were still being pulled out from the wreckage. Trees had been snapped in half and all but the strongest buildings had been flattened.
“Survivors wandered around, picking through the debris, searching for loved ones. Wedding photos, clothes, personal belongings and the contents of their homes were laid bare for all to see.
“It was obvious it would take years for these communities to recover.”
But he said: “When I revisited to scene of the disaster earlier this month it was great to see how survivors had moved on, recovered, and looked to the future with hope.”