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Nightmare in paradise

Relieved to be home - Swiss tourists arrive at Zurich airport Keystone

Reverberations from Sunday’s earthquake in southeast Asia are being felt around the world, as relatives anxiously wait for news from the devastated region.

Much of Switzerland’s 40,000-strong Tamil community is in shock after hearing that thousands had been killed in Sri Lanka and India’s Tamil Nadu province.

“I was in shock when I heard about the catastrophe because my parents are in Sri Lanka,” Krishanthan Vivekanandan told swissinfo.

The 20-year-old Tamil moved with his family to Switzerland when he was nine. His parents flew to the Sri Lankan capital, Colombo, just before Christmas.

His parents are safe, but many of his colleagues come from a town where the death toll has reached 1000.

“Many of my Tamil colleagues were woken up in the middle of the night by phone calls from Sri Lanka. They haven’t been able to sleep since because they have yet to learn of the fate of their loved ones.”


In the region itself, the destruction wreaked by tsunamis stretches far beyond Sri Lanka’s shores. Amid the devastation, hundreds of Swiss tourists are either on their way home or trying to reach a functioning airport.

Scores have suffered injury but they have been considerably more fortunate than the thousands of locals who have lost their lives.

Tour operators said there were about 2,500 Swiss tourists in the region. Some 330 were in Sri Lanka, 400 in Thailand and 970 in the Maldives.

One tourist holidaying in the Maldives told Swiss-German television what she had seen.

“At first we didn’t realise what was happening. Then suddenly we saw a wave of water. People were screaming because the [airport] terminal was awash with water. The force of the wave tore down the rear wall of the terminal and my husband was hurt,” she said, speaking from a hospital where her husband was recovering.


The director of Swiss-German television, Ingrid Deltenre, was on holiday in Thailand, when her hotel was swamped.

“The wave was not particularly big, perhaps two metres high, but its force was enormous. The entire hotel was flooded. Those who could run did so.”

A Swiss who runs a hotel in the Maldives, Jürg Leuzinger, was in his office when a tsunami hit.

“I saw a giant wave coming towards us. By the time I got outside, the whole place was underwater, with chairs and tables being swept about. The entire island was covered in water about a metre deep.”

Leuzinger told Swiss-German television that everyone staying at his hotel had left. “The place isn’t functioning. Everything is damaged. We have no electricity and no running water. We are using an emergency generator…”

Tourists from the stricken region started arriving back in Switzerland on Monday. Those from the worst affected areas were being flown home first.

“A giant wave swept across the beach I was on,” said one man who had just landed safely in Zurich. “After that, all I wanted was to get away.”

swissinfo, Andreas Keiser

Sunday’s quake occurred off the west coast of the Indonesian island of Sumatra.

It reached 9.0 on the Richter scale, making it the biggest quake since that which hit Alaska in 1964.

The resulting tsunamis devastated coastlines in Sri Lanka, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Myanmar and the Maldives.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR