Sri Lanka withdraws tsunami alert, assures citizens
THE Sri Lankan Disaster Management Centre, which had issued a tsunami warning across the tropical island on Wednesday and had asked coastal residents to move inland, said they had withdrawn it.
“Return to usual places of residence,” it said in a statement that cancelled the alert in line with advice from the US Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre.
A government statement said waves could hit the island’s northeastern port district of Trincomalee and urged an orderly evacuation of the coastal strip.
“Immediately evacuate the coastal area and go to high ground,” said the government statement posted on the Disaster Management Centre website.
The warning evoked painful memories of the 2004 tsunami disaster, also caused by an undersea earthquake off Indonesia, that wrecked much of Sri Lanka’s coastline and killed around 30,000 people.
Thousands of coastal residents across the island were on the move to higher ground and security forces helped with the evacuation, state media reports said, while the state electricity utility switched off power.
In the southern city of Tissamaharama, state television said there was a slight drop in the waterline but officials reported no other unusual occurrences along the palm-fringed coastline.
The government declared an emergency and cancelled leave of all medical staff of state-run hospitals while railway authorities suspended all coastline services.
“There is no need to panic,” said Disaster Management Centre deputy head Sarath Kumara. “It’s the eastern and southern costs which are more vulnerable, but it is safer for people elsewhere along the coast also to leave.” But in Trincomalee, which was hard-hit by the 2004 tsunami, one resident contacted by phone said: “There is a near panic situation.” The tsunami warning came as the port city was packed with last-minute shoppers stocking up before the traditional Sinhala and Tamil New Year on Friday.
In the island’s southern town of Galle, also devastated by the 2004 tsunami, there were scenes of people rushing from their coastal homes.