Ayagama: Quick thinking and vigilance minimise losses | Sunday Observer

Ayagama: Quick thinking and vigilance minimise losses

Susantha-Susantha’s family members who died due to the floods being laid to rest.
Susantha-Susantha’s family members who died due to the floods being laid to rest.

Ayagama, located 32 Km away from Ratnapura town was one such town in the district that was heavily affected with one landslide claiming a large area of its town centre. Home to over 31,000 residents, the road leading up to the town, though cleared now had been completely cut off from the town making it difficult to reach. While the main road running through the town remains completely impassable, much devastation can also be seen with many houses near waterways flattened as others appear to be heavily damaged. With the Ayagama hospital being affected due to a landslide, authorities have had to set up a temporary hospital at the town’s Public Library to provide necessary healthcare to victims.

However, despite the many stories of suffering and loss, it was remarkable to discover that no lives were lost from a landslide suffered by the town, despite its magnitude. In fact, quick thinking and vigilance had prevented the town, perhaps matching the most number of deaths reported in the Ratnapura district. Nevertheless, with over half of the population affected, with 13 dead while another 4 remain missing the day to day lives of the people in Ayagama have stalled.

As relief efforts continue in the area by the government agencies, the Army and volunteers, many people have returned home in an attempt to return to their normal lives. Many continue to clean their damaged homes while those with no homes left are collecting whatever possessions remained. According to authorities while it is unclear how and when the landslide which now blocks the main road and devastated the town will be cleared, it is evident that Ayagama along with many other towns in Ratnapura will need time, effort and continued assistance to resemble the towns that once was, before the devastation.

Susantha Samarasooriya, 40, sits outside the home of his brother appearing dazed and in shock unable to make sense of the tragic incident he suffered five days ago. He relates the story, unemotional and in a matter of fact way, according to his relatives is how he has been behaving since the loss of his three daughters Kavya, Kaushi, and Kavindi along with his loving wife Chandra Kanthi.

“It was just another normal day for us” he says as he takes us back to that fateful day. “The children love the rain and my youngest daughter aged six wanted me to take her out to the garden to watch the water stream down in the morning” he says, adding that his wife and two other children were still in bed. “It was raining heavily but I told her we could go as soon as I get some betel and we did” he remembers.

According to Susantha as they watched the water rush down he heard a sudden rumble. “The next thing I remember is that my daughter and I found ourselves deep in mud, with the walls of our house collapsed on our backs.” The hill over their house had collapsed during the heavy rain burying the area in a landslide.

“My brave girl didn’t cry at the time but she kept asking me to lift her up” Susantha recalls. “I could not reach her so I asked her to calm down and explained to her that I was unable to move” he says adding that however he knew his wife and other children had not survived. Determined to get his remaining child out alive but unable to move Susantha engaged his daughter in conversation believing they will be rescued soon. Nevertheless, fate was cruel to Susantha on the day.

“As we spoke a sudden flash flood took my daughter away” he says remembering her last words. Susantha says his child had screamed out “Budu Hamuduruwane Monada Mei Wenne” (Lord Buddha, What is happening?) as she was swept away. “That’s all, that was it, and I realized my life was over” he says adding that it was the villagers that rescued him a few hours later. “I don’t remember any faces as I was not in my right senses” he claims adding that however since then the villagers have assisted him despite suffering losses of their own.

In fact the floods and landslide had not only taken away the lives of his precious family, Susantha was injured with severe bruises across his body while his tea estate was destroyed. “I also had a coconut cultivation, out of 50 only one tree now remains” he says. “All that is inconsequential, if only my family had survived” he laments.

According to Susantha and his relatives, the area despite the heavy rain had not suffered such serious landslides previously. When asked Susantha says there was no warning to relocate and that his family has lived in the area for over 50 years.

As Susantha along with extended family grieve over the loss of their loved ones, D.A Chandarawathi along with her husband and son have now been left homeless. As she shifts among the rubble of her home she is pained that whatever can be salvaged is now being stolen by those living in her area. “They carry away whatever they can find” she says adding that one neighbour was seen taking away a chair belonging to them. “But compared to the loss we have suffered a chair is of no importance so I let them take it” she says adding that her family now lives in the home of a neighbour.

D.A Chandarawathi lived along the riverbank, a branch of the Kalu Ganga along the Idangoda road, Ayagama. According to Chandarawathi, though her house was slightly damaged in the 2003 floods she did not expect her house to be destroyed this time around.

With her house destroyed and no belongings left leaving her family to depend on the kindness of neighbours for food and shelter she says she is unable to understand what the future holds. “I can’t even sleep at night, my husband is a day labourer and I don’t know how we are going to rebuild” she says.

Just two stories out of the many arising from the tragic situation, many had similar stories to tell. An 80 year old who had to scramble up to higher ground along with her son, left with just the clothes on their backs and Rs 100, to a landslide victim being found dead on a tall tree, were just a few among those.