Tourists head for hotel rooftop in tsunami panic
A HOLIDAYMAKER from Torquay was caught up in a tsunami panic when he was lying on the beach in Sri Lanka.
Graham Webster, 55, was relaxing in the sun when the ground started to rumble and people around sped off for the hills.
Amid cries of 'tsunami, clear the beach', he and partner Carole picked up their towels and headed to the highest point.
From the rooftop of a nearby hotel, he made anxious calls home to get an update on the situation.
As the moment of an expected wave impact grew near, the hotel manager informed him the building had been swept away by the huge wave of 2004 and had since been rebuilt.
"He said they had built it back stronger," said Graham. "You can imagine what we were thinking."
Fortunately, the scare passed without the feared wave arriving and nobody was hurt. Now back in the UK, Graham relived the events with a smile although the threat at the time seemed very real.
The people of Sri Lanka know only too well the devastation a tsunami can cause.
The tsunami disaster of 2004 claimed thousands of lives along the same coast as Graham visited and, when the alarm was raised, the couple feared the worst.
He said: "We had been in the country to watch the England cricket team and we headed from the capital Colombo to Hikkaduwa about two hours away.
"On the way the taxi driver told us about the tsunami in 2004 and parts of the area are still recovering.
"Everybody there knows about the dangers of earthquakes. The taxi driver told us that last time the wave had reached as high as the coconut trees and a train with 600 people on board had been swamped. So all this was in our mind when we got to the beach.
"We both sat up when we felt the tremor but then laid back down again. Twenty minutes later we heard the screaming and warning about the tsunami.
"We didn't know where to go at first then went to the top of the hotel. We were told there had been an earthquake and we had 20 minutes before a tsunami.
"I managed to phone home. We were frightened but really just wanted information about what was happening.
"The local told us to just keep our fingers crossed."