Damage on the island of Sri Lanka, caused by the Indian Ocean tsunami on 26 December 2004.  Image online, courtesy NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration).


On the morning of December 26, 2004, people throughout Sri Lanka were preparing to celebrate a holiday.  Leaving Colombo, a train - filled with people who had the day off - pulled out of the station at about 7:30 AM.

The journey to Galle - a beach resort on Sri Lanka's southern shore - usually takes two hours.  Traveling a few-hundred yards inland, along the island nation's western coast, the train - called the Samudra Devi ("Queen of the Sea") - was about 15 miles from its destination.  

Soon after picking-up passengers at Peraliya station, near the village of Telwatta, the packed train encountered rising waters.  The initial tsunami wave had reached its tracks.

Believing the train was high-enough to protect them, local villagers began climbing aboard.  Passengers helped them to reach the top of the now-stopped train.

About ten minutes later, another wave - vastly more powerful than the first - roared ashore on the Indian-Ocean island, smashing into the train and pushing the carriages off the tracks.  Although water was washing into the train cars, there were few casualties.

Some of the passengers - like Shenth Ravindra, who had never heard of a "tsunami" - also sought safety on the train's roof.  Thirty minutes later, as the people waited for help, something very unusual happened. 

Shenth tells us that the water around the train carriages suddenly receded, only to return as a "shear cliff of water."  This wave was far bigger than the first two and was moving extremely fast.

The third wave crashed into the train, scattering all the rail cars in different directions and treating them like toys.   Shenth's car was thrown at a house, enabling him to get out - and reach higher ground - just before the third wave would have carried him away.

Even the train track was not spared.  After pulling the rail line out of the ground, the powerful wave threw it into the air about 25 feet.  Converted into a twisted metal wreck, the track looked like it belonged to a roller coaster.

Almost everyone on the train - estimated to be around 1700 people - died.  Some were swept out to sea; their bodies were never found. 

Because the third wave had destroyed more than the train, the wreck-scene became a chaotic debris field.  Helpers, looking for victims, had to endure impossible conditions.  The village of Peraliya and Telwatta were both completely ruined.

By the time many bodies were located, they were badly decomposed.  Anguished friends and families, unable to recognize their loved ones, had to identify them by other means.

The wreck of Samudra Devi remains the worst train disaster in the world. 

It was not the only catastrophe to descend on the Indian-Ocean island that day, however.  Officials provide the following Sri Lankan statistics:

  • Deaths:          35,322
  • Missing:         19,000 (approximately)
  • Injured:           21,411
  • Displaced:     516,150

Despite incredibly difficult conditions, including the loss of so many homes, survivors in Sri Lanka - like survivors in Thailand and twelve other countries - did what they could to help those in desperate need.

Because many people had "smart phones," when the tsunami struck, they were able to record what happened in real-time.  Let's take a look at what they have shared online.    

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Author: Carole D. Bos, J.D. 5190stories and lessons created

Original Release: Jan 01, 2013

Updated Last Revision: Jul 15, 2019

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"TSUNAMI-CAUSED DESTRUCTION" AwesomeStories.com. Jan 01, 2013. Feb 17, 2020.
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