Friday, December 31, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Local aid worker startled by extent of tragedy

Seattle Times staff reporter

Sri Lanka


Island just off southeast India, slightly larger than West Virginia.

Engaged in bloody ethnic civil war in 1983; cease-fire began in February 2002.

The entire eastern coast was hit by the tsunami, affecting areas that are both government- and rebel-controlled.

The water unearthed land mines and swept away minefield markers.

Population: 19.9 million


Dead: more than 27,000

Missing: about 5,000

Homeless: about 1 million

Sources: Seattle Times news services, CIA Factbook

Asiana Education Development:

Entire schools swept into the ocean, a lack of fresh water and basic medical supplies, a profound sense of grief and fear — a Seattle man who rushed to Sri Lanka after Sunday's devastating tsunami said news accounts of the tragedy didn't prepare him for what he found.

"There have been people here that have had no aid, no help whatsoever," said Adam Salmon, 43. "We have people living in fields next to rotting bodies."

Salmon heads the nonprofit Asiana Education Development, which runs 71 schools and an orphanage on the 270-mile-long island.

"At least nine of the schools are completely gone — absolutely washed away," Salmon said by telephone yesterday. "We have about 100 children from our schools confirmed dead and several hundred that are missing — the number of missing just keeps rising."

Salmon left his Queen Anne home shortly after hearing the news, and helped arrange for antibiotics to be flown to Sri Lanka from Singapore.

Interviewed after 48 hours without sleep, Salmon said not only was aid slow to arrive, but the high waters had still not receded from some areas, cutting off roads and isolating entire communities.

"That is creating a psychological trauma for the people. They see the water high and they don't know what's going to happen next."

Wednesday night, the orphanage, housing about 170 children in a town near the Indian Ocean, was evacuated once again after a sudden rise in the water level.

Salmon said he and other relief workers took three truckloads of supplies from the airport at Colombo to several towns hit by the high waves, but that many other areas cannot be reached.

"The greatest needs are for antibiotics and clean water," he said.

Sri Lanka, a country of about 19 million, has minimal government resources to even begin coping with the disaster.

"The problem that we're encountering is that there's so little help here," Salmon said. "Unlike in Thailand, the military here doesn't have the equipment to get in here and help get people out."

News services tell of an additional threat in Sri Lanka: land mines left over from the country's two-decade-long civil war, which claimed 64,000 lives before a cease-fire in 2002.

According to a Reuters report, land mines planted in the island's northernmost area were uprooted by the waves, and hundreds were floating around a fishing village near the border that divided government and rebel territory.

Salmon, who has a master's degree in behavioral science from Seattle University, has specialized in working with children at risk. He went to Sri Lanka in 1994 to start a company publishing books dealing with AIDS awareness and drug education.

Seeing the need among the children there, particularly the large number of orphans resulting from the war, he established Asiana Education Development in 1998. It has an annual budget of $500,000 and a staff of about 80 Sri Lankan teachers and other employees.

Its goal for 2005 had been to establish a community-based clinic with mobile outreach to each of its schools. Now, relief work has become the priority. Donations may be sent to Asiana Education Development, 1930 Sixth Ave. W., Seattle, WA 98119.

Jack Broom: 206-464-2222 or

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company


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