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Forty coconuts: dispatch from Sri Lanka exclusive

Robert and Sunil Foster live in Sri Lanka and are involved in the aid effort following the tsunami disaster in southern Asia. Photo submitted.

Robert and Sunil Foster live in Sri Lanka and are involved in the aid effort following the tsunami disaster in southern Asia. Photo submitted.

Robert Foster, a retired BBC engineer living in Sri Lanka with his Sri Lankan-born wife Sunil, a lawyer, has agreed to provide with regular dispatches from the tsunami-struck country. Foster says the couple's home is located about 20 km south of Colombo and about five km inland. He and Sunil were at home when the tsunami struck and the only noticeable effect was a 30-cm rise in the river level at the bottom of their garden. Thanks to North Bay's June Kuehl and former Callander resident Danielle Laporte for helping set up the connection with the Fosters. Here is the first installment:

Until today we were so upset at what has happened that we seemed unable to do very much to help and I think many others have been in a daze to. Well today we heard about Nadika’s plan to get relief to a small village on the northern edge of Yala National Park (on the southeast coast) and it has galvanised us into action.

The village called Panama (it’s pronounced Parnama) had a population of about 1,000 people and is just above sea level about 1km inland from the sea. The tsunami overwhelmed the village and only 400 survived. Their village gone, the survivors remained where it had been as it had become an island surrounded by water on all sides with no means getting away.

Bridges on the road that used to connect it to Arugam Bay and Potovil have all gone. For three days no one came near, then a government helicopter hovered overhead but did not land, the crew fearing that they would be rushed by the stranded villagers. Word of their plight was passed to the Navy and yesterday all of them were taken by boat to higher ground about 15 km inland.

Although out of immediate danger they have no food, clothes or shelter so Nadika (Sunil’s nephew) and 20 of his friends have organised a convoy of eight jeeps (including his own Land Rover) and four lorries to take supplies to them, as it is very unlikely that they are on anyone’s official list of people needing help. Nadika knows some of them well as they have been helpful to him and his friends during their wildlife safari camping expeditions to this remote part of the island. One doctor friend of Nadika’s had been in the area when the disaster struck and was able to relay details of the villagers plight to the others.

So today everyone in the family has been putting together things on Nadika’s list that will go over night tonight on the convoy. We donated a sack full of our own clothes, bed sheets and towels and some cooking utensils.

We helped finance a bulk purchase of clothing and our neighbour Jyanputhe donated 40 coconuts. It doesn’t sound very much but with families of the others contributing in a similar way, the jeeps and lorries are now fully loaded.

The convoy will leave tonight and will be in the area of the villagers by midday on Friday. The lorries will not be able to get all of the way as the jungle tracks are only passable with 4WD vehicles so the jeeps will relay the supplies the last few kilometres.

You may have heard that ad hoc deliveries of aid by ordinary people are being discouraged by the SL Government and indeed this is the case where large numbers of small vehicles have been clogging the damaged coastal roads. Well Nadika’s convoy will be travelling entirely by interior roads and has been approved by the Government aid organisation.

Today I registered my details with the British High Commission in Colombo. It is something I have not done before although it is recommended for all Brits staying more than a few days. I did it at this time as I also wanted to let them know that I am available as a volunteer, should my location, skills and resources be of any use to them during the crisis here. I downloaded the registration form from the internet, filled it in and faxed it back with a covering letter.

Sunil has just managed to contact Martin’s sister’s son on his mobile phone after trying several times a day since the tsunami struck. Martin (our gardener/watcher) then spoke to his nephew and established that all the family is safe and well. They live by the sea but on a small cliff. Fortunately they were at home when the waves came. We are very relieved.

I hope that tonight I will sleep better than I have since the disaster struck.

Now returning to the convoy destined for the Panama survivors last Friday. Well. as the convoy reached a town called Buttala, they received a mobile phone call from Nadika's Doctor friend (who by this time was with the survivors) to let them know that the Sri Lankan Navy had re-visited the survivors and delivered three shipping containers of emergency provisions and therefore no further supplies were needed for the time being.

Nadika's convoy was diverted to Hambantota, a larger town where 4,500 people had died. The supplies were handed over to the Wildlife Conservation Unit which has turned its attention to humanitarian aid for the time being.