Salem man loses family members in disaster

SALEM, N.H. (AP) – Amid the stories of unspeakable horror from the Asian tsunami disaster comes word that a Salem man has lost a niece and nephew and two other family members in the raging waters.

Ted Kilikuddy says his sister survived by clinging to a tree limb after being swept away, but the water tore her young son and daughter from her arms in a small town in Sri Lanka. The children and their grandparents disappeared.

“It’s not only my family,” Kilikuddy said Wednesday. “The whole town is wiped out. The people lost everything. There are only 25 to 30 people who survived in the town. There were probably 2,000 to 3,000 people.”

Kilikuddy said his sister, Puvana Suntharamohan, had taken her daughter, Suvastika, 7 and son, Abaragithan, 13 months, to visit their grandparents, who lived in Navalady in eastern Sri Lanka.

“All of a sudden the water came,” Kilikuddy said. They came out of the house to look at the water, which was about 4 to 5 feet deep right outside the door. “They didn’t know they needed to run,” Kilikuddy said.

But there was no place to run. “They were helpless,” he said.

His sister took the children, and they ran to another building where, higher up, there was a concrete platform. They waited, the mother holding her children tight. Three minutes later, the tsunami came.

“It was 33 feet high, and it washed away everything,” Kilikuddy said. “Buildings collapsed, and my sister was swept away. Everybody was swept away.”

His sister grabbed onto a tree limb. It was there rescuers found her. She asked about her children and was told they had not been found.

Kilikuddy said she threw herself back into the water – she wanted to die as well. Rescuers pulled her back and she was in shock for two days, unable to speak.

“It was horrible,” Kilikuddy said. “You wouldn’t want to hear the stories about what is happening. Bodies are floating. … Some people lost their whole family.”

Kilikuddy, who works for IBM, came to the United States in 1992. He was a math and science teacher in Navalady. His wife, Suba, taught English.

The town is only about a half-mile wide, he said, and was known for its beautiful beaches. Now, he said, the people there and across Sri Lanka are in desperate need of everything clean water, clothes, medicine.

“It’s a big disaster,” he said, “They never experienced anything like this before. I don’t think any country has experienced anything like this.”