Friday, December 31, 2004

Knowledge helps
Maui woman escape

Maui resident Diana Hudson said she was standing in a lobby of a beach hotel with some friends on the southern end of Sri Lanka when she noticed a mass of ocean water moving inland across the shoreline, wiping out umbrellas and chairs.


Diana Hudson: Owner of the Nail Shop in Kihei survived Sri Lanka tsunami

"I knew something was wrong," said Hudson, who was visiting Sri Lanka for the first time and traveling with five friends from California.

"I turned my head to tell my friend about it and looked back again, and it was up another four feet. I knew it was a tsunami the minute I saw it."

Hudson was interviewed yesterday by telephone in a hotel in the hill city of Kandy in Sri Lanka.

Hudson, owner of the Nail Shop in Kihei, said Sri Lankan merchants were opening their stores along the shoreline Sunday morning in the resort area of Koggala when the tsunami struck.

She said while some people at the resort thought the surge was a wave, she knew that it was a tsunami, remembering accounts of the destructive wave that killed many people in Hilo in 1946.

"That's what saved me," said Hudson, who was also a visitor on Kauai when Hurricane Iniki struck the island in 1992.

Hudson said she immediately fled from the Koggala Beach Resort for higher ground, and hundreds of other people were running with her.

"Everybody was running for their lives. It was really scary," she said. "I knew I had to keep running."

She said the Koggala hotel was about 18 feet above sea level, but the water surged through it in less than five minutes. "It was so quick," she said.

Hudson said the water rushed through the resort's hotel, sweeping over tables and chairs and knocking out walls.

She said after leaving the hotel, she flagged a driver of a motorized three-wheel taxi and rode toward higher ground, then ran when she could go no further, climbing over a wire fence and eventually slipping through a barbed-wire fence into an Sri Lankan air force base and up a 200-foot-high hill.

"We went inland about half a mile. Everybody was running," she said.

On the hill, she realized she was the only visitor among hundreds of residents, some of whom wept from losing a child or a parent.

There was a man from Holland dressed only in his underwear who had been awakened from his sleep, and a woman from England who had just left a tour bus of visitors believed to have perished.

"I think everybody was in shock," she said.

Hudson said some of her friends from California went inland and found her, and they managed to retrieve the luggage with wet clothing.

They sought refuge on the second floor of the hotel whose main structure had survived the tsunami. Hudson said the hotel was supported by concrete pillars on the first floor, allowing the ocean surge to pass through it, but any solid walls in the resort were "totally blown out."

"We are so fortunate to be alive," she said.

Hudson said despite the devastation to their lives, the driver of the motorized three-wheel vehicle took them to his father's home inland, where they stayed for two days.

The driver's family and relatives fed them what food they had: rice, curry, beans, with cups of tea.

She said most structures were flattened at least within a quarter-mile of shoreline, and many islanders lost their only means of earning a living, including the driver and his brother, both of whom lost their motorized three-wheel taxis.

She said she saw graves being dug, and bodies were beginning to wash ashore.

Along the coastline, white flags were draped on virtually every house left standing, indicating there had been a death in the family, she said.

"The whole shoreline is devastated," she said. "It's like the whole island of Oahu wiped out a half-mile in all the way around."

Hudson and her friends were airlifted by a Sri Lankan air force helicopter Tuesday to the capital city of Colombo, then to Kandy.

Hudson plans to be back on Maui next Friday after completing a prearranged trip to Asia that includes a visit to Bangkok and Tokyo, but she is leaving with mixed emotions.

"We came out alive. We're fine but it's kind of heart-breaking. We left all those people we loved, but there's nothing we can do by staying," she said.

The driver's father, an elder in the village, told them to spread the word about the devastation and to request sending assistance. She said anyone wishing to help the family of the driver may send a donation to Galborra Hewagee, Chamila Priyanga, No. 22, Sinhadewaragama, Koggala, Sri Lanka.

East-West Center Tsunami Relief page
American Red Cross Hawaii
Pacific Tsunami Warning Center

E-mail to City Desk


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