Alumnus documents tsunami devastation

Tyson Trish saw a lot as a GW student in the 1990s. But he never experienced anything in Foggy Bottom resembling what he saw in Sri Lanka last month.

A beautiful beachfront was transformed into a field of concrete debris. Entire villages were destroyed and replaced with overcrowded camps. A region suffered the equivalent of nearly 60 Sept. 11 attacks.

That is just some of the devastation that Trish witnessed as he reported on the tsunami disaster that ravaged Southeast Asia on Dec. 26. The former Hatchet editor in chief, a journalist for the Daily Record in northern New Jersey, traveled through Sri Lanka with a disaster relief team.

“I think to be there personally was a very intense experience,” Trish said after returning from the tsunami-ravaged region. “It was one of the first times that I felt like it was impossible to capture the entire scene with a picture.”

Sri Lanka was one of the hardest hit countries in the region – officials estimate a death toll of 30,000 as well as an additional 20,000 people displaced from their homes. The tragedy comes on the heels of a civil war that ended just two years ago in which thousands of people died.

“When you come across controlled territory, there were hundreds of soldiers watching you,” Trish said. “I had no idea how torn apart the country was before I came to Sri Lanka.”

For 10 days in January, Trish traveled with a medical team in Mallaitvu beach, a village that he described in an article for the Daily Record as “a secluded fishing community with gorgeous views and palm trees.” He also took pictures of the devastation.

In an article, he described the damage the water did to the town, explaining that after the waves hit, “rounded cement water wells were the only indication where houses once stood.”

He continued, “The front wall of a church gave the initial illusion that maybe one beachfront building somehow survived. It did not. All that remained was the fa?ade.”

A local resident told Trish that on Dec. 26, the day after Christmas, a priest decided to celebrate Mass at the statue of St. Joseph, a third of a mile inland.

“The people that did not come for Mass collapsed and died,” the villager told Trish.

In his articles, Trish explained that in the immediate aftermath of the tsunami, there was a lack of control and coordination of disaster relief efforts, comparable to the aftermath of Sept. 11. Further complicating aid efforts, Trish said, was the destruction of roads, bridges and government vehicles. Some remote areas of the region became virtually unreachable.

“It was a truly heartbreaking story.” Trish said. “Those that survived are still suffering in overcrowded camps. But kids still had smiles on their faces and were happy to see us.”

Trish praised the American media’s coverage of the tsunami, saying that it contributed to Americans’ inventive to contribute to the fundraising effort.

“For a lot of Americans, it’s a part of the world that we don’t know much about,” Trish said. “At first, it wasn’t a high priority of our government to donate money for the cause. But as these images flooded the screen, it became a priority.”

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