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Sri Lanka: Stairway to survival
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Eric Porterfield
 
August 4, 2009

When the first wave hit the southern coast of Sri Lanka, 65 year-old Piyasili Palliyaguru was quickly swept up by the powerful moving water that reached nine feet high in her house. She, along with her 32 year-old daughter and 18 year-old granddaughter, hung onto the rafters to survive what they later learned was the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami.

Piyasilli Pallyaguru
Piyasilli Pallyaguru, the head of the disaster management committee for the village of Dickwella South in southern Sri Lanka, standing at the base of a new evacuation route. More than 460 families in the village will be able to escape to higher ground if another disaster hits.

Daniel Cima/American Red Cross



Disaster management committee volunteers give Winsor Wickramaratna, a local construction worker who volunteered his time to build the evacuation route, buckets of cement used to build the stairs and walkway. Construction of the project began on June 14, 2019.
Disaster management committee volunteers give Winsor Wickramaratna, a local construction worker who volunteered his time to build the evacuation route, buckets of cement used to build the stairs and walkway. Construction of the project began on June 14, 2019.

Daniel Cima/American Red Cross


Luckily, all three survived, but other family members were not as fortunate. Piyasili lost her step-mother, two cousins and her nephew that day. Some of the other 460 families in the village of Dickwella South suffered similar losses.

To help prepare the community for future disasters, Piyasili and others formed a village disaster management committee. The committee immediately identified a need for an evacuation route to help get families to higher ground quickly.

To do this they needed land, volunteers and a hillside to build a stairway to higher ground. Mr. Muthukumerana, a 45 year-old resident of the village, immediately volunteered his land for the site of the evacuation route.

“There is a another road which is very far from a safe place, so the road and stairs we constructed is the shortest route if a disaster strikes,” says Pivasili.

The day finally came. On June 14, 2019 construction began. Community members mixed sand, rocks, water and cement powder using shovels and other tools. Winsor Wickramaratna, a local construction worker, volunteered his time to build the evacuation route using the cement that the community had helped mix.

“I think this community is well prepared for the next disaster and there will be less impact for the families here,” says Sarath Ravindranath, Disaster Preparedness Technical Advisor for the American Red Cross in Sri Lanka.

To be better coordinated and more prepared for future disasters, the community formed four response teams. The teams consist of 40 people and include members who the Red Cross and partners have trained in early warning, search and evacuation, first aid, and shelter management.

“To assess their preparedness, we will do a tsunami simulation in coming months,” adds Sarath.

You can help the victims of countless crises around the world each year by making a financial gift to the American Red Cross International Response Fund, which will provide immediate relief and long-term support through supplies, technical assistance and other support to help those in need. The American Red Cross honors donor intent. If you wish to designate your donation to a specific disaster, please do so at the time of your donation by mailing your donation with the designation to the American Red Cross, P.O. Box 37243 , Washington, D.C. 20013 or to your local American Red Cross chapter. Donations to the International Response Fund can be made


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