A second earthquake in as many days, which rocked Sumatra yesterday and triggered a regional tsunami warning, was a boon to looters in Sri Lanka, reports reaching police headquarters said.
News of the massive quake measuring 7.8 on the Richter scale, which shook Sumatra for the second day yesterday morning, following Wednesday`s quake of 8.4, sent panic striken villagers of the Northern, Eastern and Southern coastal belts of Sri Lanka, running helter-skelter in search of higher ground, in fear that a second tsunami would hit them.
The entire coastal belt was in utter chaos and some schools were closed as soon as the warning was broadcast on Wednesday night. As thousands panicked and ran in search of safety, unscrupulous elements had a field day. Reports reaching police headquarters said there had been a number of complaints recorded where houses had been broken into and all valuables robbed.
Police stations in coastal areas sent out their vehicles, fitted with public address systems on Wednesday evening, to advise the people not to panic as there was no tsunami threat.
Even during the later hours of yesterday morning a large percentage of the people, in areas where the last tsunami had wreaked havoc in December 2004, were panicky believing there would be a repeat, police headquarters said.
However with the Meteorological Department advising the public that the Indonesian earthquakes would not cause a tsunami in this part of the Indian Ocean and Sri Lanka, people returned to their homes. Sketchy or inaccurate broadcasts by a few electronic media stations, caused confusion and fear still reigned, police said.
A senior citizen from Batticaloa told The Island that even the Police station was deserted and people were unable to find out what the real situation was. Batticaloa was one of worst affected area during 2004 Boxing Day tsunami.
Reports from the deep South and South West of the island indicated more control.
Akuressa correspondent S. Upul Pinidiya reported that the Disaster Management Centre of Matara took prompt action to evacuate the people of the coastal towns and villages to safe locations. Children, pregnant women and the elderly were first evacuated in St.John Ambulance Brigade vehicles. The UNDP programme chief Mahil Liyanage and Disaster Management Centre head Captain Saman Balasuriya directed the evacuation operations.
Matara Town was deserted yesterday morning and most of the schools in the coastal areas of the district remained closed, he reported.
According to certain reports from coastal towns bodies kept for burial at funeral houses were removed to higher elevations.
According to one report from Moratuwa, a certain Church and a Temple had refused to accommodate people who sought refuge and hundreds of them already living in tsunami camps spent the previous night and till mid afternoon yesterday in the streets.