On Christmas day, 2004, I was skipping through the Internet when I noticed that an earthquake had struck Indonesia with large tsunami waves generated. At that early stage it was reported that 5000 people had died and that was 2000 people more than the Sept 11th disaster so I knew it was bad. Watching the disaster unravel on TV, the death toll was rising hourly to 300,000 dead and I had a deep urge to go there to help.
I started organizing my trip by printing Google maps of the destroyed areas from the Internet and collected donated boxes of medicines from local NYC hospitals. I then set out to find a way to get an air ticket. A friend bought me a ticket and I arrived in Colombo, Sri Lanka with my then boyfriend Oscar, whose family was not happy he was going.  At the baggage claim we met an army engineer named Donny Paterson and a day later Bruce French joined us. Bruce was a private chef from Telluride and a friend of a friend who had contacted us before we left. We were now a team of four volunteers so we rented a van, hit the supermarket to fill up with supplies and set off towards the destroyed coastline- with no real plan but to help. Our thoughts were to team up with other organizations and provide eight good extra hands to help out where we could for two weeks and then return to our lives but little did we know the mammoth job ahead of us. We started helping a 3000-person village called Peraliya. Every house had been destroyed and there was no food or water and a train had been overturned killing thousands of people. I set about creating a field hospital in the only remaining structure of a school library and Donny found upturned bookcases and made them into beds for our patients. Earlier that day we had met two Emirates pilots Luke and Matt who were also paramedics and we started to patch people up with red duct tape from our limited medical supplies. As the weeks moved on, injured people from as far as 20 miles away started walking to our little hospital and by now we had a steady team of doctors and nurses we had recruited along the way. There was also an amazing resourceful Interhelp medical team from Hamelyn, Germany. They brought many medicines and continued to supply medical staff to us for the first 3 months. I am so grateful to volunteers Reinhold Klosterman and Ulrich Behmann, whom I still bump into volunteering in disasters all over the world. Over those first months the little field hospital swelled to over 1000 patients a day and later a permanent hospital was built in the village by Dr Stein of Germany. There were many good ‘NGO’s’ working all over the coast but this disaster was too big for the Sri Lankan Govt. and there not enough aid groups to cover hundreds of miles of destruction, so we filled the gaps and we were very much needed. To make a very long story shorter we stayed much longer than a few weeks ending up in charge of managing the Peraliya village IDP camp and the rebuilding of 510 homes, a large school, hospital, a tsunami center and hundreds of business. Each day more volunteers would drive by our camp and ask if they could join in or we would recruit them from our local 3$ a night guesthouse. We were soon joined by James Ellis, an English volunteer and journalist who set up a simple website asking for volunteers to come and join us. Hundreds of volunteers poured in from all over the world. People would turn up and note they had been rejected from the Red Cross, because they didn’t have a Masters degree in disaster management, but they still had a deep desire to help so they joined our Third Wave family. Others would mention they had no skills but then later I would see them outside doing art therapy with the children or helping build homes and doing inspiring work! False tsunami warnings occurred daily- usually given by worried villagers or a drunk who thought he saw waves so people would panic and in this process would get hurt or killed. A solution was needed, so I co-founded CTEC –the first Community Tsunami Early-warning Center in Sri Lanka with my trusted Sri Lankan friend Dr Novil, who had been working in our village hospital. Sirens were set up around the surrounding villages connected back to a home base where officers monitored the world on computers for earthquakes. The 8 officers were selected from the surrounding villages and a rotation schedule enabled us to be open  24 hours a day. CTEC continues to grow and last year we celebrated our 10th year anniversary by opening a tsunami museum and children’s disaster learning center. In Sri Lanka, the Third Wave volunteers had grown into a very large and trusted family and everyone was welcome. We stayed in Sri Lanka for 2 years helping with the recovery effort and continue to help today.


The first tsunami wave was around 20 foot high and it flooded the village creating great damage. Many of the passengers on the stopped train quickly climbed onto the train roof thinking they would be safe. Then the second tsunami wave crashed over the village but this wave was over 50 foot and it carried homes, the train, school and 1000’s of village people with it. This second tsunami wave killed over 300,000 people in 13 countries, 45,000 people were killed in Sri Lanka. When I refer to the Third Wave it is that 3rd wave of volunteers who flooded into the country to help. love Alison

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