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'It all seemed like a scene from the Bible'

Weligama (Sri Lanka), Dec. 27: Disaster struck with no warning out of a faultlessly clear blue sky.

I was taking my morning swim around the island that my brother Geoffrey, a businessman, had bought on a whim a decade ago and turned into a tropical paradise 200 yards from one of the world's most beautiful beaches.

I was a quarter way around the island when I heard my brother shouting at me, 'Come back! Come back! There's something strange happening with the sea.' He was swimming behind me, but closer to the shore.

I couldn't understand what the fuss was about. All seemed peaceful. There was barely a ripple in the sea. My brother's house rests on a rock 60 feet above the level of the sea.

Then I noticed that the water around me was rising, climbing up the rock walls of the island with astonishing speed. The vast circle of golden sand around Weligama Bay was disappearing rapidly, and the water had reached the level of the coastal road, fringed with palm trees.

As I swam to the shore, my mind was momentarily befuddled by two conflicting impressions ' the idyllic blue sky and the rapidly rising waters. In less than a minute, the water level had risen at least 15 feet, but the sea remained calm, with barely a wave in sight.

Within minutes, the beach and the area behind it had become an inland sea that rushed over the road and poured into the flimsy houses on the other side. The speed with which it all happened, seemed like a scene from the Bible, a natural phenomenon unlike anything I had experienced.

As the waters rose at an incredible rate, I half expected to catch sight of Noah's Ark.

Instead of the ark, I grabbed a wooden catamaran that the local people used as a fishing boat. My brother jumped on the boat next to me. After a few minutes, the water stopped rising, and I felt it was safe to swim to the shore. What I did not realise was that the floodwaters would recede as quickly and dramatically as they had risen.

All of a sudden, I found myself being swept out to sea with startling speed. Although I am a fairly strong swimmer, I was unable to withstand the current. For the first time I felt afraid, powerless to prevent myself from being washed out to sea. I swam in the direction of a loose catamaran, grabbed the hull and pulled myself to safety. My weight must have slowed the boat down, and soon I was stranded on the sand.

As the water rushed out of the bay, I scrambled onto the main road. Screams were coming from the houses beyond the road, many of which were still half full of water that had trapped the inhabitants inside.

I was worried about my wife, who was on the beach when I went for my swim. I eventually found her walking along the road, dazed but happy to be alive. Our children were still asleep when the tsunami struck at 9:15. They woke up to find the bay practically drained of water and their parents walking back across the narrow channel to safety.

It took us many hours to realise the scale of the disaster, because we could see only the tiny part in front of us.

We have no water and no electricity and are cut off from the rest of Sri Lanka. It is impossible to buy food.

The holiday we planned and dreamed about for many months is in ruins. We feel fortunate ' fortunate to be alive.

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