Children Of Fortune
( A few weeks after tsunami in 2004 as a volunteer I made a visit to Sri Lanka to collect stories relevant to 2004 Asian Tsunami. I collected many authentic stories stranger than fiction during my short stay in Sri Lanka from the villagers and children who survived the tsunami and those who lived along South and East Coast of Sri Lanka. )
Out of all those strange stories of survival in the tsunami tragedy, no story is stranger than that of a two and half month old infant of coastal village in the South of Sri Lanka (known as Malawenna) who lost her mother. This is a tiny village which is located in close proximity to the rail track where the world’s biggest Train Tragedy took place due to tsunami waves killing more than 3500 passengers including the villagers who got into it to escape the speedily gushing flow of sea water.
This infant girl named Chirandi Nanayakkara was found alive on a heap of uprooted plantain (banana) trees washed away from a distant area and had got entangled among a grove of coconut trees submerged in water.
Coconut fibre based industry and small scale fishing by dugout canoes are the chief livelihoods of these villagers.
I found an opportunity to interview the fibre mill owner who had rescued the infant girl in the late afternoon of the tsunami day. His name was Premaratne and he and his wife escaped tsunami by running away into a safe area during the first wave and late in the afternoon the fibre mill owner ventured into his garden in search of his dogs left behind in his garden on this fateful day of 26th December 2004.
Amid warnings by his wife and neighbours who had already left the village, the fibre mill owner took the risk to come back to his garden in search of his pets even though the water level had reached almost up to his neck. Reaching the garden proved extremely difficult as the whole area was completely submerged and due to the presence of fallen trees drift wood and tree trunks. The whole area gave a ghastly appearance with scattered corpses of both the young and the old.
FIBRE MILL OWNER FOUND AN INFANT GIRL ALIVE.
The access road to his garden was blocked by the tree trunks. On reaching the garden the fibre mill owner had heard a faint cry from the float of uprooted banana trees struck among the arecanut trees grown around his garden which were about six feet under water. Mill owner could not believe his eyes when he found an infant alive on the float of banana trees when the whole area was completely devastated while over hundreds of residents of this village were feared dead or disappeared. When the fibre mill owner was getting ready to extricate the infant he heard a man screaming for help standing on a concrete tank of a house about to collapse at any moment in the adjoining land clutching an arecanut tree. He was also rescued by the mill owner.
The infant was handed over to a youth of the village known as Mohan who took the infant girl to a nearby Buddhist temple. Mohan had also lost some of his family members. He was searching for their corpses of the missing members of his family. Mohan who took care of the infant gave her first aid, sucking out water while administering artificial respiration.
Mud and sand found in her eyes and all over her body were removed and with the infant in hand, Mohan waded through the water full of rubble. driftwood and the corpses of the dead towards a nearby Buddhist temple late in the evening.
The Chief Buddhist Monk of the temple provided a mobike to Mohan to rush the infant to the nearby Government Hospital located a little far away from Hikkaduwa the famous beach resort. Just a few hours after tsunami all the hospitals in Sri Lanka located in close proximity to the coast were over crowded with the wounded and the corpses. The village hospital where the infant was rushed was not an exception.
As there was no ambulance available in this rural hospital on this day, the hospital staff took steps to, rush the patients needing emergency medical care to the Teaching Hospital in Galle City, the leading state hospital in the administrative capital of the Southern Province of Sri Lanka.
The jeep was full of infants and some elderly children but some infants died inside the jeep before taking to Galle hospital. As there were hopes that the infant girl named Chirandi could be saved if rushed to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) in the Galle hospital, she was taken there while Mohan followed the jeep on a mobike.
Mohan put a tag carrying the number 30 on the infant girl and he could remember that this infant was admitted to ward no. 2, Galle Teaching Hospital on 26th December 2004.
CORPSE OF THE MOTHER OF THE INFANT FOUND.
Three days after rescuing the infant, the fibre mill owner reached his garden which was found to be inaccessible as it was full of uprooted trees, bushes and rubble. Unbearable stench of decaying corpses was very common a few days after tsunami in the area and the fibre mill owner could feel the stench emanating from his garden as well. On reaching the access road to his house, he got the stench of a decomposed corpse under a breadfruit tree and on close examination he found the corpse of a woman with torn pieces of her dress deep underneath a thick pile of rubble . On hearing the news that a corpse of a woman was found in the same garden where the infant was found alive, Jayantha Nanayakkara the father of the infant and his family members rushed to Malawenna and identified the corpse as that of his wife named Chintha Lalani. She was the mother of the infant girl named Chirandi found alive.
MOTHER INFANT IN ARMS BELIEVED TO BE TAKEN AWAY BY GUSHING WATER.
Fibre mill owner who found both the infant and the corpse of her mother revealed to me the corpse was found with outstretched arms as she was holding her infant child. Chintha was employed as a stenographer attached to Galle City Magistrate Court when she was killed by 2004 tsunami while she was with her infant and her elderly parents. It was revealed her husband had gone to Sunday Vegetable Market at Hikkaduwa . Several vegetable vendors and villagers died within the market premises. When Jayantha had arrived home a several hours later he found nobody at home and the house was a complete wreck beyond recognition. From that moment onwards for several days he went here and there in search of his family members. Jayantha told me he went to each and every camp in the district for the tsunami displaced and finally found only his infant daughter in the Intensive Care Unit of Galle City Hospital.
Corpses of Chintha, her father and mother and another unidentified girl were buried on 31st December, 2004 in a mass grave dug in his garden with the assistance of the Navy.
HOW THE FATHER IDENTIFIED HIS INFANT DAUGHTER.
Infant’s father was desperate and when he was about to give up hopes of his wife, the infant daughter, both father-in-law and mother-in-law he came to know a certain infant girl was found alive in a garden of the locality and rushed to the hospital. Working on this clue he paid another visit to the hospital. On visiting Galle Teaching Hospital (Sri Lanka) several occasions, on 28th December 2004,the father of the infant girl ( Jayantha Nanayakkara) was able to identify his infant daughter in the Intensive Care Unit. As there were hundreds of children, the doctors at the beginning refused saying that it was difficult to identify the children in the ICU.
Later Jayantha told the doctors that there was a scar caused by the Caesarean operation done during her birth. Doctor in charge of the ward went inside and came back with the happy message that such an infant having a scar was present.
According to Jayantha, his infant daughter at birth was found to be very weak and he was beset with numerous complex problems in looking after his daughter without the warmth of her mother, he revealed to me when I met him with the infant daughter.
All the family members of his wife were killed by tsunami and he had to seek the assistance of his sister living in a far away town in the Western Province of the country. He was a clerk in the State Transport Board but he found it extremely difficult to get a transfer to the area where his child was living. His wife was employed in the Magistrate Court of Galle City under the Ministry of Justice and he made appeals for financial assistance to look after the child but he said none of the authorities responded.
( After meeting this infant with her father in Sri Lanka and others involved in the rescue attempt in 2004, I could not trace this family as I left Sri Lanka in 2004, just after completing my mission as a Journalist. )
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- Infant girl named Chirandi Nanayakkara found alive in Sri Lanka in an area entangled among a grove of coconut trees submerged in water.
- Mill owner found infant alive, but in the arms of a corpse, the infant's mother.
- I found an opportunity to interview the fibre mill owner who had rescued the infant girl in the late afternoon of the tsunami day.
- On visiting Sri Lanka on several occasions, on 28th December 2004,the father of the infant girl was able to identify his daughter in the Intensive Care Unit.