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Priest says stoic town is fighting on

In Mullaittivu's main street, several churches, including the main one, St Anthony's (pictured), and its fleet of up to 2000 fishing vessels were destroyed. One sixth of the population is missing or dead including 190 of the 600 students from the local Catholic school, but the town is fighting to put its life back together.

Eighty orphans were engulfed when the tsunami hit Mullaittivu on the north-east coast of Sri Lanka on Boxing Day. The Age reports they were thought to have vanished out to sea until corpses began rising through the sand where the orphanage had stood. Too decomposed to lift, the remains were burnt.

More than 3000 people - about a sixth of this Tamil Tiger-controlled town's population - are dead or missing, and the living have lost their homes and, more crucially, the fishing boats and nets they relied on for survival.

Father Edmund Michael, who twice served as the town's parish priest, said the calamity would have been greater had the children not been on school holidays and Mass not been under way at a neighbouring parish on Boxing Day.

"The villagers have faced storms. They have faced typhoons. They faced aerial bombing during the war. But never before a mountain of water, 50 feet (15 metres) high, dark as ash and 400 kilometres per hour," Father Michael said.

"Everybody has lost someone. It is like a shopping list - one lost a mother and a brother, another a sister and a daughter, or a grandmother.

"But the crying has stopped for now. They have to go back to fish. There is no other way."

The Sri Lankan Government says the disaster caused damage to the national fishing industry running at more than AUD$670 million, including the loss of 20,000 boats.

Relief operations in Mullaittivu have successfully managed to stave off second-tier effects from the disaster, such as hunger and disease.

Stoic town fights on after a disaster (The Age 13/1/05)

Caritas Australia Asian Eathquake/Tsunami Appeal

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Tsunami aid must be quick and on target (AsiaNews 12/1/05)
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PIME Campaign for tsunami victims in Asia: An update (AsiaNews 12/1/05)
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In Sri Lanka, It's Fishing Communities First (Zenit 11/1/05)
CRS president, cardinal describe tsunami devastation in Sri Lanka (Catholic News Service 11/1/05)

13 Jan 2005