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The eye of the storm

BMJ 2005; 330 doi: (Published 01 February 2005) Cite this as: BMJ 2005;330:050270
  1. Bala Karunakaran, medical student1
  1. 1Guy's Kings' and St Thomas' School of Medicine, London

Bala Karunakaran went to Kilinochchi Hospital in northern Sri Lanka to help set up a maternity operating clinic and research how the region had been affected by civil war but found himself in the midst of a huge emergency relief operation. He shares his experiences of the tsunami


We headed to the hospital in the early morning. We saw many Tamil Tiger rebels walking around with walkie-talkies and stiff faces. We approached and inquired further about it. A rebel commander told us that he had heard reports of the sea coming into villages and promised to keep us updated. We did not think much of it. I thought a lot of property would have been destroyed and felt sorry for the people, but we could not imagine the extent of this tragedy.

By 8 am, we were getting reports that the tragedy was far worse. The rebels were rushing people to hospital in buses, lorries, and on motorbikes. Many were pronounced dead on arrival. The outpatient department was overfull, and we got reports that the situation was only the tip of the iceberg and that a lot more people were coming. Soon the hospital was teeming with people. Doctors stopped trying to keep medical records. The district medical officer, Dr Sathananthan, realised that if this were to continue there would be no room to treat anyone. He contacted a rebel commander to vacate a nearby school for us. The hospital uses a colour code system--something learnt from the war days, when they have to deal with masses of injured people. All volunteers and staff were given red armbands, and no healthy people were allowed into the hospital without one. Patients with urgent injuries got a yellow armband, and volunteers took them to the wards. Patients with minor injuries …

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