Boxing Day Tsunami – 10 years on-5536

Boxing Day Tsunami – 10 years on

Perilaya, Sri Lanka.  You probably don’t know the name, but you know the history.

Perilaya is where, 10 years ago today, in the “Boxing Day Tsunami” more than 1700 people died on a train that was swept from the tracks as they tried to escape the relentless sea.



We were in Galle this morning, this Boxing Day, 10 years on. We heard the sirens wail at 0920am, the time the tsunami hit. And we stopped. Quite still. Packing on hold, quite forgotten and just considered.


I feel as though fate has been driving us here over the past three weeks. We landed in Sri Lanka and immediately took the train north to Jaffna – for which we needed permission from the Sri Lanka Ministry of Defence. That train line only re opened in October of this year – washed out by the 2004 Tsunami, destroyed by 30 years of civil war, it was a delight to travel up this part of the track.

I remember the devastation of the 2004 Tsunami from disjointed TV pictures. From videos that don’t seem real, where the water seems to flood so slowly and unrealistically. I remember, that my concern was for my chairman at the time, who was on vacation in Thailand (he was fine). The reality of this disaster, I truly don’t believe hit me until I arrived in Sri Lanka.


There were perhaps 50,000 people who died in Sri Lanka. I say perhaps because numbers are uncertain, thousands are still missing, bodies have never been found. That number pales into insignificance when you consider the more than 200,000 Indonesians who died on the same day.

This disaster is real to me because I opened a book – Wave – as I arrived in Sri Lanka.  Sonya Deraniyagala – a Cambridge educated native Sri Lankan, married to an Englishman, with two sons lost her husband, both sons, her parents and, for a while, her mind. The family were spending the Christmas holidays in Yala, the national park on the south coast of the island often called the teardrop of India. Sonya wrote of her experience, her despair, her desire to die.

Weeks after reading her account, my throat still clenches, my hand still automatically goes to cover my mouth when I think of it.  Her voice still bounces off the inside of my head. And I still feel her despair in the bottom of my stomach as I gaze out at the flat ocean of the beach off Hikkaduwa.


Since I read Sonya’s account, I have thought of little else, most especially when we were in low lying land after leaving Hill Country. I look for the escape. I wonder, when looking at maps, what I would do. What it would be possible to do. When for miles and miles and miles there is simply flat land. And I feel absolute despair. And huge guilt that me, who has everything, should feel this despair. What right have I?


Today, 10 years on from the most powerful earthquake and the most destructive tsunami the recorded world has seen, we stood on the beach at Perilaya, just north of the beach resort of Hikkaduwa. This was the scene of the world’s most deadly train accident.

Minutes after the Sumatra – Andaman earthquake which sent the India plate crashing into the Burma plate, a tsunami rippled across the oceans. Just before 0930 it arrived in Sri Lanka. First of all the sea receded. Locals ran into the now empty sand, grabbed all the wriggling fish that they could. Then the first wave came. A wave of up to 9 metres.

The ocean receded again.

And then it came on in. And in. and in.


The Queen of the Sea, was the name of the train from the Sri Lankan capital city of Colombo to Galle.  After the first wave, more and more people got onto the train. They handed their children to people inside the carriages and they themselves climbed onto the roof. Yet more attempted to shelter in the lee of the train, thinking that when more waves hit, they’d be protected by the train.


Many bodies have never been found. The train was ripped from the tracks. The track was ripped from the earth. Twisted Torn Upended. Literally turned up-side down.


12, 500 children were orphaned by the Boxing Day Tsunami in Sri Lanka.


Sonya lost her entire family.

Where, though, is the train, I wondered? Does it stand as a monument to the dead? Twisted, torn, but forever empty?

The train is never empty.

This is Sri Lanka.

The train was repaired, the carriages refurbished and the Queen of the Sea, she runs everyday, just like she used to.

Queen of the Seas passing Perilaya.

And life goes on. For those that are able. For those that can. And this Boxing Day, 10 years on, in a land far from home, I feel the despair of the inevitable – there is NOWHERE TO GO HERE if it happens again

Map showing areas affected by the Tsunami
Map showing areas affected by the Tsunami

But I also feel the sheer joy of those who have triumphed over that despair, who have pieced their lives back together against all odds and here, in the human spirit, there is always hope.


Travel Tips for Exploring Sri Lanka

We receive a fee when you get a quote from World Nomads using our affiliate links. We do not represent World Nomads. This is not a recommendation to buy travel insurance.

ASocialNomad is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to,, and Amazon and the Amazon logo are trademarks of, Inc. or its affiliates. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *