'Where is God?': Sri Lankans stunned as deadly explosions spark war memories

Security personnel inspect the interior of St Sebastian's Church in Negombo, on April 22, 2019.
Security personnel inspect the interior of St Sebastian's Church in Negombo, on April 22, 2019.PHOTO: AFP

COLOMBO (AFP) - As Mr Shantha Prasad carried children wounded in Sri Lanka's deadly attacks into a Colombo hospital, memories of the country's bloody civil war flooded back.

"I carried about eight wounded children yesterday," he told AFP on Monday (April 22), a day after a string of blasts hit hotels and churches, killing nearly 300 people.

"There were two girls aged six and eight, the same age as my daughters," said Mr Prasad, who helps carry stretchers into the hospital's triage area and wards.

"Their clothes were torn and drenched in blood. It is unbearable to see this kind of violence again."

For many Sri Lankans, Sunday's attacks against churches and high-end hotels brought back painful memories of a conflict that lasted three decades and killed as many as 100,000 people.

During those years, bomb attacks were a regular occurrence, and left many Sri Lankans on edge in the streets and on public transport.

In the capital, street sweeper Malathi Wickrama said on Monday that he was now nervous doing his job.

 
 
 

"Now, we are afraid to even touch black plastic bags with garbage," he said.

"The string of blasts yesterday brings back memories of the time when we were afraid to go in buses or trains because of parcel bombs."

'WE ARE RESILIENT'

With the lifting of a nationwide curfew early on Monday morning, people began to emerge into Colombo's streets, where security was heavy.

Schools and the stock exchange are closed, but some shops opened their doors and public transport was functioning.

Mr Imtiaz Ali, a tuk-tuk driver, was looking for customers in the capital, but said his family was in mourning over the death of his nephew in the blast that hit the Cinnamon Grand hotel.

"The boy was just 23. He was a salesman at Cinnamon Grand hotel and he was to be married next week," Mr Imtiaz told AFP.

"We had made all the plans to hold the wedding at home, but today, it's a funeral house."

When Mr Imtiaz stopped at a petrol station to get a back-up container of fuel, the attendant said police had banned the sale of petrol and diesel in cans and bottles for fear they could be used to improvise bombs.

Elsewhere in the city, some residents were making their way into work, determined to maintain a semblance of normality despite the tragedy.

"We are resilient people," said Mr Nuwan Samarweera, a 50-year-old office worker.

"We have seen so much violence during the civil war. For the outside world, it may be big but for us, life goes on," he added.

"We have to gather ourselves and move on."

'WHERE IS GOD?'

North of Colombo, people gathered at the St Sebastian's church to pay their respects at a site where dozens of people were killed as they attended Easter prayers.

 
 

A mother and son poured tea for security forces in a show of support, as cleaners wearing face masks cleared shattered glass and splintered wood inside the church.

Buddhist monks joined priests, nuns and ordinary people arriving to offer condolences to the victims.

"I woke up this morning and thought 'what can I do to help?'" said Mr Churchill Karunaratne, 52, weeping as he laid flowers outside the church.

He had rushed to the church after the blast a day earlier hoping to help, and found scenes of horror.

"I came after the blast and saw dead bodies everywhere," said Mr Karunaratne, a father of three.

"My kids have seen it all on the TV and now they are very scared about going to church," he added.

"They are asking many questions such as 'where is God?'"