Sri Lankans thrilled, oblivious to Powell’s lightning visit

Sri Lankans in the tsunami-hit southern city of Galle were either thrilled or oblivious to US Secretary of State Colin Powell’s lightning visit Friday, but hoped regardless that his presence would lead to more aid.

Amid a thin crowd waiting at a security line looped around the makeshift helipad where Powell touched down, tuk-tuk driver T.K. Naleen, 35, said he had heard that the leader had pledged to help the people of Sri Lanka.

"I can’t guarantee whether he’s really good or not though," Naleen said sceptically, as he sought money from passers-by to help him and his displaced family travel outside devastated Galle to stay with relatives.

"I think the Americans are helping very well so far," said Naleen, who lost two of his four children, his home, and his tuk-tuk — a three-wheeled vehicle mostly used as a taxi — when the December 26 tsunami smashed into Sri Lanka, killing more than 30,000 people.

Bookbinder G.W. Ariyaratne, 55, said he was delighted Powell was stopping here, even if only for 50 minutes, before his return to the capital Colombo.

"Only Colin Powell has come here, nobody else. When he comes here, he can see all this and understand what really happened to Sri Lanka," he said, gesturing to the wreckage and rubble surrounding Galle’s cricket stadium.

"Then he will help us more," he added.

The United States has already pledged 350 million dollars in aid to tsunami-hit countries in the Indian Ocean region, where at least 165,000 people in 11 nations were killed. Washington says this sum may be increased.

Coconut seller W.L.P. Sunil, dripping with sweat in the midday heat as he plied his trade, told AFP he had no idea who Powell was but hoped he was important enough to provide some relief.

"I think if he comes to look and see what is here, then he will try to help the poor," Sunil said.

Guide Ajit Amendra, 37, who stationed himself at this strategic tourist spot for work before the disaster and has been returning daily hoping to find a tourist, said he had never heard of Powell until his visit.

He too hoped he was powerful enough to bring in more aid.

"He can see what happened, find out all about the quake, and go back to the United States, and then they can give us money," said Amendra, who thought the superpower had only pledged 50,000 dollars in relief.

Powell’s trip here by helicopter allowed him to see first-hand the devastation wrought along the island nation’s coastline.

While here he also made a whirlwind visit to a Red Cross centre providing medical care to survivors and distributing US-funded kits of household and sanitary items to displaced families.

Kumidini Hemachandra, 48, who lost her small snack shop in the disaster, waited an hour outside the security cordon here wanting to catch a glimpse of Powell or even to ask him for help as he was whisked in and out.

She left disappointed.

"I was waiting to see him but the security was too tight … He must have seen the damaged areas — I think he has come to help us rebuild out country."

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