‘It’s indescribable’: Albertans grieve for relatives and friends killed in Sri Lanka bombings

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‘It’s indescribable’: Albertans grieve for relatives and friends killed in Sri Lanka bombings

by - 5 min read

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Two Alberta families are reeling after hearing news that their friends and relatives were killed in a series of bombings in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday.

More than 200 people were killed and hundreds of others were injured in the near simultaneous and co-ordinated bombings at churches and hotels in Sri Lanka.

Dilina Fernando, 17, and his family moved to Calgary from Sri Lanka in 2007. Early Sunday morning, he got news that two of his male cousins, M. Lahiru and Sudhiva Fernando, and Lahiru’s wife, M. Diliniee, had been killed.

“We’re just kind of shaken up … We hope that the numbers don’t continue to rise, because every minute they’re saying that the death toll is getting higher and higher. It’s just hard to hear,” Fernando said, speaking on behalf of his father, who was too upset to do an interview.

“It’s indescribable.”  

A statue of Virgin Mary broken in two parts is seen in front of the St. Anthony’s Shrine, Kochchikade church, after an explosion in Colombo, Sri Lanka, on Easter Sunday. (Dinuka Liyanawatte/Reuters)

He said his family previously lived about five minutes from where one of the eight bombings happened.

It’s particularly shocking and painful that the attacks happened on Easter Sunday, Fernando said. The family is Christian, and like millions of others around the world, they had been fasting for the two days preceding Easter.

“Sunday is the day that we celebrate. It’s the day that we’re back on our feet and we celebrate, we have a big mass,” he said. “For something like that to happen on today of all days, it just hurts that much more.”

‘Really devastated’

Samith Warnakulasuriya was driving to his home in Edmonton last night when he got a call from his mother in Sri Lanka.

He could hear ambulances and people screaming in the background.

The call only lasted about a minute, the noise drowning out his mother’s voice. The family was safe, she said, but they had just witnessed an explosion at the local church in Negombo.

“I was really devastated. I didn’t know what to do. I stopped driving. I was breathless,” he said. 

“I came home and I was shivering … My family members, nobody would have been thinking about any kind of explosion in the churches, where people pray to God. We are there for peace, for security.”

Samith Warnakulasuriya speaks outside his church in Mill Woods in Edmonton. (Jordan Omstead/CBC )

His parents and sisters decided to stay outside the doors of St. Sebastian’s Church to avoid the crowded pews inside for Easter Sunday mass.

The decision may have saved his family’s life.

But, several friends — people he knew as cousins — died in the blast.

“When I’m going back, they won’t be there to meet me. That’s a big shock, that’s a very very big shock. People I talked to before coming here, I’m not going to meet them again.”

Warnakulasuriya capitulated to his family’s fearful pleas to avoid Sunday mass. Thousands of kilometres away, they were fearful for a similar attack in Edmonton

“They’re really worried about my kids,” he said.

Support from local communities

Ramona Fernando, president of the Sri Lanka Canada Friendship Association of Edmonton, said she fielded calls from other people in Edmonton’s Sri Lankan community who feared going to Sunday morning mass in Alberta after learning of the devastating attacks in Sri Lanka.

“We are going to stand together and do whatever we can to bring the community together and look for people who need help,” Fernando said.

“It is a very, very sad day indeed,” said Hemasiri Abey, president of the Sri Lanka Canada Association Calgary. “As the Sri Lankan community living in Canada, we are deeply [affected] by what happened in Sri Lanka.”

St. Sebastian’s Church in Negombo, north of Sri Lanka’s capital, Colombo, was damaged by a blast Sunday. More than 200 people were killed and hundreds more injured in a rash of bombings at churches and hotels in and just outside of the capital. (Chamila Karunarathne/Associated Press)

Abey said the community is a small and tight-knit group, and they’re still working on gathering information about what happened and who was hurt or killed.

“Everyone is sad and everyone is talking to each other, trying to get information as much as possible and trying to help affected people in Sri Lanka,” he said.

Police stand amid the damage left by a blast in the restaurant area of the luxury Shangri-La Hotel in Colombo. (Ishara S. Kodikara/AFP/Getty Images)

The community will set up a fundraiser page on GoFundMe, Abey said.

“Everywhere in the world, this is a very sad day,” he said. “We experience too much of this type of thing.”

Country in shock

Those killed in one of the deadliest blasts in the country’s history include more than 30 foreigners, government officials said.

Sri Lankan Defence Minister Ruwan Wijewardene said 13 suspects have been arrested.

“Tensions are high. People are angry and there’s a call for calm from everybody,” he said.

There is a horror at the kind of attacks that have taken place.–  Arjuna Ranawana , journalist in Sri Lanka

Arjuna Ranawana, a former producer for CBC Edmonton, is an editor at republicnext.com in Sri Lanka. He said the entire country is in shock.

“There is a horror at the kind of attacks that have taken place,” Ranawana said.

The three luxury hotels that were bombed in Colombo are located in what Ranawana called the “the safest area of the country.”

He said some hotel guests were having a traditional Easter Sunday breakfast when the attacks happened.

(CBC)

Three of the blasts targeted St. Anthony’s Church in Colombo, St. Sebastian’s Church in the western coastal town of Negombo and the Zion Church in the eastern town of Batticaloa.

Global Affairs warns Canadians

The federal government is warning Canadians in Sri Lanka to limit their movements.

Global Affairs Canada issued a statement saying the island nation remains “volatile” and more attacks are possible. The High Commission of Canada to Sri Lanka in the capital Colombo will be closed on Monday due to the security situation.

Global Affairs Canada said they’re monitoring the situation closely. To date, they don’t have any reports of Canadian citizens being injured.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is among the world leaders responding to the tragedy, sharing a response on Twitter, saying “Canada strongly condemns the heinous attacks on Christians.”

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley also responded on Twitter.

“We must recommit to building a world free of fear, hate, and persecution, no matter where or to whom you pray,” she said.

This story originally appeared on CBC

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