Calm Before Storm


Children whose families evacuated after deadly landslides in Sri Lanka enjoy playtime with World Vision staff.

Editor’s note: All children and their families are safe in a new location. World Vision plans to operate a Child-Friendly Space in every camp location, providing the children a safe place, while helping them regain a sense of normalcy. Later the organization will make sure children have the help they need to return to school.

“It started off as a really good day,” says Nirmani Perera. She and two colleagues welcomed dozens of children to a Child-Friendly Space for families who had fled rains, severe flooding, and landslides in central Sri Lanka.

For more than a week, heavy rains pounded Sri Lanka, flooding the capital City, Colombo, and triggering landslides in the mountainous central region. At least 100 people died and as many were missing. More than 230,000 people were displaced. 

Landslides swept away three villages in Aranayaka. In mere seconds, 60 acres of land turned to mud, wiping out 66 houses and the people inside them.

Within four days, Nirmani and two other World Vision child program experts arrived in Aranayaka and set up a Child-Friendly Space (CFS) for children of families that had evacuated from the landslide area.

CFS activities are fun with a serious side. Children who participate learn to stay safe from physical dangers and exploitation.

But about noon, the sunny day turned — it began to rain. Nirmani and the others sent children back to the community hall to stay with their mothers. The rain grew heavier, Nirmani says, but whenever it eased, children would return to the CFS tent.

“They said they didn’t want to stay in the hall and that they liked to stay in the CFS with us,” Nirmani says.

Then Nirmani heard a loud rumbling. She thought it was thunder.

“It was followed by a second [rumbling], and a noise immediately after that I can’t explain,” she says.

“It sounded like millions of rocks falling on other rocks … continuous noise,” says Nirmani. “When we looked out of the tent we saw the mountain come down and it created a white smoke like a mist.”

“People were panicked and we panicked, too. We had never experienced something like this before,” she says.

Nirmani and the other staff made sure the children returned to their parents, then packed up their equipment and supplies.

All World Vision staff were instructed to evacuate the landslide area by the response manager. Nirmani and the team prepared to open the CFS at the new evacuation location.

“We are looking forward to working with the children tomorrow again, after assessing the situation,” Nirmani told her colleagues.

“But tonight that noise will not stop ringing in my ears.”

Photo©2016 World vision, Nirmani Perera

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