ASIA/SRI LANKA - “This is an enormous tragedy calling for vast international solidarity” says Papal Nuncio in Colombo Archbishop Mario Zenari

Tuesday, 28 December 2004

Colombo (Fides Service) - “This is an immense tragedy, Sri Lanka has never known a disaster of these proportions. The people are shocked and frightened. The provisional death toll is 13,000 and at least one million homeless. The disaster struck totally unexpected. The Catholic church, here and universally, set to work immediately to provide emergency relief” said Papal Nuncio in Colombo Archbishop Mario Zenari a few hours after a gigantic “big” wave spread panic and death across South East Asia. .
Speaking by telephone to Fides the Nuncio gave more details with regard to initiatives in the local Church: “The affected dioceses are four: Trincomalee-Batticaloa in the east, Galle in the south, Jaffna in the north, and part of Colombo. The local Bishops and Caritas offices have alerted every means and channels at their disposal to offer shelter and food to the homeless. Thousands have gathered in churches, other are flocking to makeshift aid centres. We are acting in collaboration with relief and rescue operations organised by the government and by non governmental organisations with which we have constant contact. For the moment what is needed is shelter, tents, food, medicine. Then it will be necessary to look at long term assistance for rebuilding and re-settling, and for this vast action of international solidarity will be indispensable ”.
The Archbishop has already planned visits to the affected dioceses. Tomorrow 29 December he will go to Trincomalee-Batticaloa. The local Church is working at all levels to restore hope among the people. “However, the disaster has united the country at the social and political level - said Archbishop Zenari. Everyone is working together, Sinhalese and Tamils, members of all political parties, Buddhists and Christians: in the face of this immense tragedy ethnic, religious or political differences have been forgotten and the country is one. Let us hope that the country will recognise and preserve its newly found unity”.
Although the number of persons killed in Sri Lanka by the tsunami is estimated at 13,000 (including about 70 non Sri Lankans) the government fears the final number may double. The wave struck along the east coast of this Indian Ocean state-island: from Jaffna in the north to beaches crowded with tourists in the south. Six metres high waves pounded the coastal areas of Muttur and Trincolamee leaving the south in disastrous conditions. Corpses are being burned in the streets to prevent the outbreak of epidemics. At least 1,500 passengers were almost certainly killed when the giant wave swept their train from the railway line. The train connected the capital Colombo with the town of Galle, 110 kilometres to the south. (PA) (Agenzia Fides 28/12/2004 righe 33 parole 367)