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Cablegate: Sri Lanka - Situation Report On Sri Lankan Response

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 COLOMBO 000629

SIPDIS

STATE ALSO PASS TO USAID
USAID/W FOR A/AID ANDREW NATSIOS, JBRAUSE
DCHA/OFDA KISAACS, GGOTTLIEB, MMARX, RTHAYER, BDEEMER
AID/W FOR DCHA/OFDA
DCHA/FFP FOR LAUREN LANDIS
DCHA DEPUTY ASSISTANT ADMINISTRATOR WILLIAM GARVELINK
ANE DEPUTY ASSISTANT ADMINISTRATOR MARK WARD
BANGKOK FOR OFDA SENIOR REGIONAL ADVISOR TOM DOLAN
KATHMANDU FOR OFDA REGIONAL ADVISOR WILLIAM BERGER
GENEVA FOR USAID KYLOH
ROME PASS FODAG
NSC FOR MELINE
CDR USPACOM FOR J3/J4/POLAD
USEU PASS USEC

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: EAID AEMR PREL PGOV CE
SUBJECT: SRI LANKA - SITUATION REPORT ON SRI LANKAN RESPONSE
TO EARTHQUAKE IN INDONESIA

REF: COLOMBO 616

-------
Summary
-------

1. On March 28, 2005, at 2315 local time, a magnitude 8.7
earthquake occurred off the coast of Indonesia, destroying
buildings and causing numerous deaths on the Sumatran island
of Nias. The following cable details the actions taken by the
Government of Sri Lanka (GOSL) to alert residents to the
possibility of tsunamis in the Indian Ocean and provides
information on the situation in Trincomalee, Ampara, and
Matara in the hours following the tsunami alert. End summary.

--------------------------------------------- ----------------
Actions Taken in Sri Lanka Following Reports of Earthquake in
Indonesia
--------------------------------------------- ----------------

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2. On March 28, the Sri Lankan Foreign Minister, speaking in
a news interview with BBC News, stated that he met with the
Sri Lankan President to convey information regarding the
earthquake in Indonesia and the possibility that tsunamis may
occur. Steps were immediately taken to order the evacuation
of coastal areas. The President broadcast a message and urged
people in northern and eastern Sri Lanka to move two km inland
and those residents of southern Sri Lanka to move one km
inland. According to the Sri Lankan Foreign Minister, the Sri
Lankan Army, Navy, and Government Agents were notified
immediately of the tsunami alert. Broadcast announcements
were made, and Tamil-held areas in the north and northeast and
the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) were informed of
the tsunami warnings.

-------------------------------
Field Reports from Trincomalee
-------------------------------

3. On March 29, the USAID/Disaster Assistance Response Team
(DART) Information Officer (IO) spoke with an Office of
Transition Initiatives (OTI) Program Development Officer (PDO)
located in Trincomalee in northeastern Sri Lanka. The OTI/PDO
stated that during the night of March 28 there were numerous
methods by which local residents were informed of the
earthquake in Indonesia and the tsunami warnings issued by the
GOSL. Local television stations and Sri Lankan radio issued
live telecasts and broadcasts with tsunami warnings; local
temples held meetings to advise residents of the tsunami
warnings; police made announcements over loudspeakers and also
went door-to-door to advise residents to move to higher
ground; sirens were sounded at 2320 hours local time to advise
residents to evacuate; and local residents also received phone
calls from relatives overseas advising them of the tsunami
warnings. Local authorities also notified hotels in coastal
areas of the tsunami warnings.

4. According to the OTI/PDO, many residents watched BBC News
and heard the Sri Lankan Foreign Minister's interview and were
thus aware that the U.S. Embassy had initially notified the
GOSL of the earthquake and possible tsunamis. [Note: The
OTI/PDO stated that residents he spoke with in Trincomalee
believed that the U.S. Embassy did a quote good job end quote
of informing the Sri Lankan Foreign Minister, and this was a
good early warning system. End Note.]

5. The OTI/PDO spoke to many individuals from various ethnic
groups, and all praised the local media's response. The
OTI/PDO stated that the only problem he observed was that cell
phone and land lines remained busy throughout the night.

6. Regarding the situation in the Indian Ocean, the OTI/PDO
stated that there were unconfirmed reports of changes in the
ocean. Residents noticed a quote bad smell, end quote that is
usually noticeable when lagoons are depleted of water. There
was also an unconfirmed rumor that the ocean had receded 150
meters.

-------------------------
Field Reports from Ampara
-------------------------

7. On March 29, the USAID/DART IO spoke with an
OTI/Procurement Specialist (PS) located in Ampara. The OTI/PS
stated that the situation in Ampara was tense during the
evening of March 28. Both private and GOSL-controlled
television and radio stations announced tsunami alerts, and
police also alerted residents via announcements through
loudspeakers in local mosques. Local media also advised
residents to remain alert for looting. The OTI/PS reported
that many women and children in coastal areas moved inland to
the main roads as a precautionary measure. However, many men
in Ampara remained in their homes as they were observing the
situation in the ocean.

8. The OTI/PS stated that after 330 hours local time, the
situation became calmer, and around 345 hours local time,
residents started moving back to coastal areas as the tsunami
alert was lifted. The OTI/PS did not hear any stories or
rumors regarding changes in the ocean in Ampara.

9. On March 29, a USAID/Colombo Foreign Service National
(FSN) spoke with representatives of USAID/Office of U.S.
Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) implementing partner Mercy
Corps in Arugam Bay in Ampara. The Mercy Corps
representatives stated that they had been advised of the
tsunami warnings through phone calls from relatives in

SIPDIS
England. Upon receipt of this information, the Mercy Corps
representatives drove around town in their vehicles sounding
their horns and went door-to-door to alert residents to the
tsunami warnings.

SIPDIS

-------------------------
Field Reports from Matara
-------------------------

10. On March 29, a USAID/Colombo FSN spoke with
representatives of USAID/OFDA implementing partner the
International Organization for Migration (IOM) and reported
that residents in Matara, on the south coast, were notified of
the tsunami alerts via phone calls from relatives overseas as
well as television and radio broadcasts. The IOM
representatives stated that all television and radio channels
continuously broadcast warnings advising residents to evacuate
throughout the night. IOM representatives in Matara visited
their temporary shelters and tents and noted that an hour
after the tsunami alert was issued, people had fled these
shelters and moved inland. IOM, as well as Mercy Corps,
reported that the police and Sri Lankan Navy assisted in the
evacuation of residents in Galle in southern Sri Lanka.

LUNSTEAD

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