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Over 11,500 killed in Sri Lanka

By V.S. Sambandan

COLOMBO, DEC. 27 . The tsunami toll in Sri Lanka has risen to at least 11,500 persons and shows signs of increasing by a few more thousands, according to officials today.

As the waters receded from the coasts and a devastated nation started counting its dead, the magnitude of the devastation became more obvious. "We are expecting a few more thousands of victims," a senior official said.

According to official figures, a total of 10,029 civilians and 48 army personnel were killed on Sunday, when the islanders woke up to a calm morning after Christmas festivities. In LTTE-held northern and eastern Sri Lanka, at least 1,500 persons are feared dead, defence sources said.

The President, Chandrika Kumaratunga, who returned from London today, is to hold an emergency meeting tonight. A special unit has been set up at the President's office.

In government-held parts of nine coastal districts, the highest number of deaths was reported from the eastern Amparai district (6,364). According to figures which were released this evening, 1,608 persons were killed in Jaffna. The toll in other districts is: Trincomalee (505), the three southern districts of Hambantota, Matara and Galle (1,453) and the western districts, Panadura and Colombo (95). "These numbers are increasing," the military spokesman, Daya Ratnayake, said.

The former Prime Minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe today said the tsunami had caused massive destruction and struck at the heart of the regional economy of the island-nation. Mr. Wickremesinghe thanked the Indian Government for the assistance being rendered, despite its own disaster.

Terming the disaster as "the worst disaster Sri Lanka has faced in its modern history," Mr. Wickremesinghe, who is also the Opposition Leader, said the north-east was "very badly affected" by the tsunami. The former Prime Minister, who visited the affected districts in southern and western Sri Lanka, said the southern city, Galle, "is in a shambles."

Lauding all sections of society for the action taken yesterday, Mr. Wickremesinghe paid tribute to "everyone, government officials, police, armed forces and community leaders. It was their commitment which saved the day for us," the former Premier said.

Immediate priority

"We have gone through the first part of the disaster." The immediate priority, Mr. Wickremesinghe said, was in re-establishing the communication network.

The focus would also have to be on medicine and basic infrastructure facilities.

The fury of the tsunami, which lashed the rim of the island in three separate tidal waves, spread from Colombo south in the western province to Kankesanthurai, in the northern Jaffna district.

Breaching all defences — government and rebel — the tsunami broke down all Forward Defence Lines (FDLs) in Jaffna, the army said. "All FDLs in the Jaffna peninsula covering a stretch of 44 km along Nagarkovil, Manalkadu, Point Pedro, Velvettiturai, Thondamannar, Kankesanthurai and Madagal have been completely washed away due to gushing waters that swept into those areas."

In the east, the Kalkudah brigade headquarters and "many other army installations" were the worst affected. In several camps in the north and east, the extent of damage is yet to be estimated.

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