31.12.04

IT TAKES A LOT TO STOP A TRAIN. Huge wave flung train like a toy.

It looks like several bombs exploded in the area, not like the power of water. In a disaster that has crushed villages from Asia to Africa, the southwest coastline of Sri Lanka still has the power to shock. The tsunami, triggered by Sunday's 9.0 magnitude earthquake near Indonesia, traveled 1,000 miles west in two hours and unleashed itself on this 30-mile swath of coastline, killing thousands.

More than 27,000 people have died in Sri Lanka. But few places tell the story of this tragedy like the passenger train traveling from the capital, Colombo, to the southern beach town of Galle on the day after Christmas.

The train stopped on the tracks when the conductor saw water ahead. But the water rushed through, picking up the cars and throwing them like toys. Train cars split from each other, landing on their sides and upside down. The wheels came off. The tracks were ripped out of the ground. About 1,000 people are thought to have died.

This was about 400 yards from the coast, much farther away than other hard-hit areas.

Put another way, the tracks were sufficiently far inland to be protected from the normal wear and tear a large body of water such as Lake Erie, the English Channel, or the Atlantic Ocean can inflict on the New York Central, the Great Western, or the New Haven, but subject to much larger destructive forces such as this wave.

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