Picture of a happy family that is now just a sad memory

James Burleigh
Thursday 30 December 2004 01:00

They look a fine family, but Mohammed Samsudena stares sadly at the formal portrait taken at a happy family wedding in Sri Lanka. The happiness has gone.

Now the picture will always remind him of the dreadful cost of the devastation caused by the Boxing Day tsunami: only three of the eight people in the picture are alive.

The others are missing, presumed dead.

Mr Samsudena and his 29-year-old wife Nirusha, from Harrow in west London, said yesterday that they have lost a total of 40 extended family members, who lived in and around the coastal resort town of Hambantota in southern Sri Lanka.

Among the relatives missing - believed dead - are Mr Samsudena's eight-year-old niece, Farha, and four-year-old nephew, Raflan.

Mr Samsudena, a 36-year-old petrol station sales assistant, said: "There's no chance they have survived; we have given up hope of them being found alive."

The couple are making desperate efforts to contact other relatives, phoning every hour, but communication is nearly hopeless, given the scale of the devastation.

Mr Samsudena said: "The tsunami has caused chaos and it is almost impossible to contact my family. But when we do get through, it's just more bad news."

On Tuesday morning he spoke to one relative who told him the body of his sister-in-law, Fatima, had been found. Mr Samsudena added sadly: "She was only 18 years old."

Another Sri Lankan living in Harrow has suffered similar losses. Moulana Mazahir says his wife's family has lost more than 50 close members to the deluge.

Mr Mazahir, 45, a chef, said his only solace is that his wife and three sons, who were on holiday in the town at the time, escaped because they left three hours before the tsunami struck.

He called their survival a miracle, but said they are terrified. Mr Mazahir said his "inconsolable" wife is begging him to fly to Sri Lanka. "She's terrified too; she has lost almost all her family. Their homes have been destroyed and their bodies are being found.

"I can't imagine what it was like; within two or three minutes everything changed. My life will never be the same.

"I'm heartbroken; it has devastated my family. At least 55 have died," he said

Mr Mazahir praised the courage of his older brother, Seyed Hameed, who is burying his family as the bodies are found. He added: "I feel helpless here, there is nothing I can do."

On Tuesday night, about 100 people gathered at the Sri Lanka Educational, Cultural and Welfare Foundation in north London to pray for victims of the disaster. Sisira Gunawardena, 49, from Kenton in Middlesex, said the group were putting together an aid package of food and clothing to send to the stricken island.

Mr Gunawardena, a bank worker, said his 27-year-old cousin was washed to his death on Sunday when the Kalutara region of Sri Lanka was battered by the waves.

Mr Gunawardena said: "Everybody is very sad and they are still in shock.

"We haven't had any experience of this in the past in Sri Lanka. Whole houses have been washed away."

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