After tsunami, students reflect and cope

Daily Staff Reporter
Published January 13, 2005

Although last month’s tsunami disaster occurred on the other side of the world, the effects of its waves were felt here in Ann Arbor. About 800 University students are from the three regions affected by the tsunami — South Asia, Southeast Asia and East Africa — said International Center Director Rodolfo Alatamirano.

LSA senior Hershey Jayasuriya said most of her father’s side of the family was part of the death count.

“My family has long roots in Ambalangoda,” Jayasuriya said of the seaside town in Sri Lanka where she once lived and has visited often. “That town was very much a part of my family … it just feels like I’ve lost my home.”

Much of the town was destroyed by the enormous waves and the same is true for much of the rest of Sri Lanka, a country off the southern coast of India that has now lost more than 30,000 people to the tsunami, according to the Associated Press.

Jayasuriya said her first reaction when she found out about her family was disbelief. She said she had to immediately console her mother, who instantly went into shock.

“The news just made it so I couldn’t run away from it. After a while, I had to stop watching it,” Jayasuriya said.

Jayasuriya said she then turned the pain she felt into her efforts to provide relief for the victims of the tsunami by starting the University group Tsunami Aid.

“Different people deal with grief in different ways. For me, it was to be active in an organization,” she said.

She now co-leads the group with RC senior Beth Bovair. Jayasuriya said the group acts as a resource for other student organizations to collaborate in coordinating tsunami aid events on campus.

Other students have experienced similar losses.

Rackham student Nat Kulvanich said that his family had a resort in Khao Lak, Thailand, but now the business is gone. He added that his aunt who was staying at the resort was unable to escape and is now missing.

But the rest of his family survived.

“My family is OK,” Kulvanich said. “My mother, father, brother and sister are OK.”

In Thailand, the town of Khao Lak was hit hard, and now the former tourist attraction lies underneath rubble.

Engineering freshman Rahul Nevatia said that his family in Chennai, India, was gone at the time of the tsunami and was not affected. His friends were not so fortunate.

“One of my friends called up a friend and found out that he was dead. His mother picked up the phone and said, ‘Don’t talk about him, because he is no more,’ ” Nevatia said.

While LSA freshman Daniel Walter, who is from Penang, Malaysia, did not have any family or friends affected by the tsunami, he said his family witnessed the damage as waves from the tsunami crashed through his hometown.

Walter said his family was up high enough to not get hurt by the waves created by the tsunami.

Walter also said he has been on previous trips to Phuket, Thailand, a city that was severely damaged in the tsunami.

“It’s scary to think that a year ago, I might have been there,” Walter said.