FOUR Fremantle locals were trapped in a ‘holiday from hell’ after the lethal Easter Sunday bombings in Sri Lanka.
The suicide bombings on Christian churches and tourist hotels took place mostly in the capital Colombo, and were carried out by local militants linked to the international Muslim terrorist group Islamic State.
Freo locals Luke Hussey and his sister Alanna were travelling with friends Pele Liascos and Xavier De Faria in the south east of Sri Lanka when the bombs went off killing at least 253 locals and foreigners, and injuring hundreds more.
The attacks happened just days after the friends arrived in picturesque Sri Lanka, and they only heard about the bombings when their taxi was stopped at a military roadblock in Arugam Bay, a popular surfing spot for tourists 100km south of where the terrorists struck.
“It was really unnerving,” Mr Hussey said, “we had no idea what was going on. We initially thought it was a routine search. They [the military] repeatedly apologised to us and had our driver translate the words ‘terrorist attack’. At that point we realised something a lot more sinister was going on. We turned our phones on to discover a huge number of missed calls from worried family and friends who’d heard about the attacks back home.”
Mr Hussey said they became highly anxious when they heard there had been six co-ordinated suicide attacks, and two subsequent explosions, one right beside where they had stayed in Colombo.
There had also been reports of a defused bomb at Sri Lanka’s main airport, and that more than 80 bomb detonators had been found at Colombo’s major bus centre.
In the days after the attacks the group were in limbo: “We didn’t know what to do or where to go,” Alanna Hussey said. “With constant reports from Australia and from locals of more attacks expected, we just had no idea if we were safe or not. All we were able to do was sit and wait.”
Ms Hussey, a nurse, had planned to stay in Sri Lanka teaching english to locals, but following the attacks she just wanted to get home.
The group contacted the Australian Embassy and were advised to avoid targeted areas and not move around the country.
Mr Hussey described the atmosphere as nightmarish: “The whole beachside town was flooded with military and police, even though it was 100km south from the Batticaloa bombing. Then a curfew was imposed meaning we couldn’t go out to eat. Our social media was shut down and the only advice we got was to stay put.”
Luke and Alanna’s mother Elaine had been attempting to contact her children for some time after news of the attacks broke. She described the wait before she got in touch with them as “just horrible”.
“I was sick to my stomach. I couldn’t get hold of any of them, I just feared the worst.”
The Hussey siblings and friends remained in Arugam Bay for four days, arranging early flights home to WA.
One positive thing to emerge from the crisis was the support the group got from a number of locals, in particular hotel chef Vagia, who ensured they were fed and looked after.
Another local, Safri, arranged for one of his employees to make the seven-hour drive to get them to Colombo airport.
“We feel very thankful for the generosity shown by the local community here [in Arugam Bay],” Luke added. “Our friend, Safri, made us feel very welcome and safe.”
The travellers arrived back in Australia last Saturday (April 27).
Disclosure: Daisy Smith is the partner of Luke Hussey.
by DAISY SMITH