Area family feels impact of tsunami


Photographed in their Gainesville home, Kandiah Sivakumaran and wife Subadra, citizens of the United States, moved from Batticaloa, Sri Lanka, to Gainesville in 1981.

DAVID MASSEY/Gainesville Sun
Published: Monday, January 3, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 2, 2005 at 11:39 p.m.
Kandiah Sivakumaran of Gainesville runs his finger down the east coast of Sri Lanka on an Internet map, reciting the villages' names.
In Batticaloa, his hometown, his brother-in-law fled the tsunami on a motorcycle, dropping the bike and running when the water rose too high.
In Kalmunai, his aunt looked out her window to see two bodies floating through her back yard.
"This town, Mullativu," Kandiah said, pointing to a seaside village he remembered from his youth. "This town doesn't exist anymore."
On the other side of the world this week, Sri Lankans and other Asians continue their search for family members and friends still missing after the tsunami hit a week ago.
In their big, bright home on NW 33rd Court, Kandiah and Subadra Sivakumaran continue their own search, taking calls from places their American-born friends can't pronounce and praying the news is good.
The Sivakumarans left Sri Lanka 23 years ago, they said. They have lived in Gainesville since Kandiah Sivakumaran started work on his Ph.D. at the University of Florida 21 years ago.
Subadra is a doctor in Ocala and Kandiah a biomechanical engineer who works from home.
All their immediate family members have called to say they're safe, the Sivakumarans said.
But Sunday afternoon, a week after the floodwaters receded, their phone still rang constantly as friends and extended family members reported small victories and new horrors.
"Every time we get a call," Kandiah said as the phone rang again, "we hear the suffering of people who have lost everything."
The first phone call came late on Christmas. The Sivakumarans' niece told them how her father, Subadra's brother, had placed a ladder against his home in Batticaloa and climbed to the top to seek refuge from the tsunami.
The survival stories continued throughout the week, they said.
The brother who fled the wave by motorcycle said once he reached dry ground, he looked down from a high bridge to see a swollen river carrying dozens of bodies.
A cousin in Batticaloa said his house was fine, but that he was using it to provide shelter and food for 40 or 50 neighbors who lost their homes.
Other calls brought sad news.
Kandiah's uncle refused to leave his beachside home, Kandiah said. He, his wife and his 3-year-old daughter were washed away.
In Trincomalee, two good friends died when they couldn't ascend to the top of their hotel. The husband, an Ohio State University chemistry professor, used a wheelchair, Kandiah said.
His wife stayed downstairs with him, Kandiah said.
Subadra visits Sri Lanka every other year. Their walls are decked with beaded likenesses of Hindi gods, and they offer visitors sweet tea from their home country.
But they raised their two sons in Gainesville, and all four Sivakumarans are American citizens now.
After years in the United States, where most of Subadra's patients can't point out Sri Lanka on a map, their hometown had seemed farther and farther away each year.
Suddenly, they said, the world seems so small.
"Calamities happen in the world all the time," Kandiah said. "Oftentimes I read about them, but then it's gone from the TV, gone from your mind.
"This happened in the country I come from. I keep imagining in my mind these places and things that are family to me that are not there anymore. Even as I think about this now, it is mind-boggling."
Amy Reinink can be reached at (352) 374-5088 or reinina@gvillesun.com.

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