The giant tidal waves that devastated South
Asia and Southeast Asia dealt a crippling blow to the LTTE,
killing more than 200 of its cadres and destroying huge stocks
of weapons and war supplies, according to sources in the
The Sri Lanka Army suffered 64 officers and
soldiers killed, while the death toll of the Sri Lanka Navy
was 18. On the missing list are 70 sailors and 232 soldiers.
The civilian death toll in the LTTE controlled
Mullaitivu district is 4,200, while that of LTTE controlled
areas in the Jaffna district was 2,100, sources said.
One of the most incredible occurrences was the
complete absence of LTTE Leader Velupillai Prabhakaran from
public view. He has yet to be seen either in public or through
the media, leading to much speculation of his whereabouts.
However, there is no information coming from the North to
suggest that he was a victim of the tidal waves.
In contrast, many other senior LTTE leaders
were very much in evidence directing rescue operations around
Mullaittivu, Muttur, and Jaffna, such as Sea Tiger Leader
Colonel Soosai (now recovered from his medical troubles which
took him to Singapore), Trincomalee District Commander Col.
Sornam, Political Wing Leader S. P. Thamilchelvan, and
Trincomalee District Political Head Elilan.
The LTTE’s Sea Tiger Wing has been
almost completely destroyed with more than 100 fighting
craft sunk or badly damaged along the Mullaittivu, Trincomalee
and Jaffna coasts, sources said.
However, the LTTE is officially admitting the
loss of only seven cadres killed, three of them in Mullaittivu
and four in the Vadamarachchi area on the eastern coast of the
Jaffna district. The Tigers have placed a blanket on news of
destruction to their bases, with the result that there is no
official news from the LTTE on this front.
All LTTE communications facilities, Sea Tiger
bases, radar stations and artillery on the coastline have been
destroyed, sources said.
The two tidal waves swept through the
low-lying Mullaittivu and Vadamarachchi coasts, which are only
a few feet above sea level for several kilometres. Mullaittivu
town, which is located on a spit of land with the sea on one
side and a lagoon on the other, was completely destroyed.
Two of the Sea Tigers’ largest bases,
Mullaittivu and Alampil, were annihilated. However, there was
less damage to the main Sea Tiger base at Chalai.
As with the rest of the country, the LTTE was
taken completely unawares.
However, the main Tiger land fighting units
were relatively unscathed, being based further inland. The
LTTE still has its vast army of cadres, including new
recruits, numbering some 18,000.
Two of the LTTE’s specialized units, the
Anti-Aircraft Unit and the Artillery Unit, are also unscathed.
They had been based in Mullaittivu earlier, but had been moved
and dispersed to secret locations inland about a year after
the ceasefire began.
The Sea Tigers have assigned a large number of
cadres to locate and salvage their boats which have not been
On the armed forces side, many coastal army
camps and navy bases were damaged. The Galle navy base, SLNS
Dakshina, was completely wiped out, and one of the navy’s
largest ships was heavily damaged while moored at the base,
being lifted bodily out of the water and slammed to the bottom
of the harbour. The navy base at Boossa was also damaged.
The main navy base at Trincomalee was also
flooded, but gunboats and fast attack craft moored in the navy
harbour suffered no damage as they had cut their moorings and
sped out of the harbour when the water began rising. Craft at
Kankesanthurai also were undamaged except for some minor
vessels, since KKS received five minutes warning of the
impending tidal wave from Trincomalee.
Incredibly, navy vessels that were at sea in
deep water off the east coast were completely unaware of the
first tidal wave, which passed under them before slamming into
the coast. Tsunamis have the unique ability of travelling
through deep water at the stupendous speed of 800-1,000
kilometres per hour without causing so much as a ripple on the
Armed forces personnel of all three services
located in coastal camps, for the most part shoo off the
disaster that had befallen their camps, and responded
magnificently to the humanitarian disaster around them. Junior
officers led groups of soldiers and sailors throughout the
North, East, West and South, combing through debris and
rescuing the thousands of wounded. It fell to them also to
recover the bodies of the nearly 30,000 dead. Bodies recovered
during the first two days were dispatched to the nearest
hospitals, but after that, bodies had decomposed to such an
extent that transporting them was impossible. In any case,
identification of the bodies was now not possible due to the
high state of decomposition, and all that the armed services
personnel could do was to count the number of bodies and bury
them in mass graves.
The Sri Lanka Air Force did not suffer damages
to any of its aircraft. However, its helicopter pilots have
never been trained to carry out rescue missions at sea on such
a massive scale at a rapid pace, although many of its pilots
strived to gallantly carry out their missions of mercy.
However, it is unfortunate that several of the
SLAF’s choppers were kept busy by politicians and bureaucrats,
including the President, Prime Minister, Leader of the
Opposition and leaders of the JVP.
The performance of many police stations in
affected areas was less than satisfactory. Policemen and
officers in many areas of the south were of little help, and
there were a large number of reports of police pilfering
relief supplies that had been handed to them by civilians for
distribution to refugees.
On the bright side, inter-service co-operation
was excellent, as was co-ordination with the Indian Navy and
Indian Air Force. The Indian Navy immediately rushed rescue
ships. The INS "Sharda" and "Sutlej" went to Galle, while the
"Sandhayak" and "Sukhanya" went to Trincomalee, and "Aditya"
to Colombo. All of them carried rescue teams, vehicles,
supplies and medical teams. Six MI17 helicopters of the Indian
Air Force also arrived the day after the disaster, and Indian
Air Force Ilyushin IL76 transport aircraft carried out a
series of supply runs to Katunayake.
The LTTE in fact called for foreign assistance
as early as Sunday evening, within hours of the tsunami
striking. However, with other governments and international
relief organizations occupied with disaster relief in
Indonesia and the south of Sri Lanka, little aid was sent to
the LTTE-controlled areas for several days. However, foreign
NGOs with a presence on the ground in those areas did their
best to assist, and sent invaluable reports to their head
offices describing the situation.
However, the LTTE simply could not cope with
the scope of the disaster. Unlike in the south, where
television stations, companies, and members of the public
organized a massive relief effort which dwarfed that of the
government, the Tigers could not count on any such effort in
their war ravaged and impoverished areas. Road conditions from
Kilinochchi to the Mullaittivu district coastline were also
very bad, as the roads have not been repaired to any great
extent, unlike the A9 highway where work has been completed.
The LTTE’s insistence that all aid be
channelled through its relief arm the Tamil Rehabilitation
Organisation (TRO) was a further blunder, as foreign
governments were reluctant to hand over aid to a terrorist
organization, not knowing whether the relief items would be