First Czech tourists return from disaster affected regions

Les premiers rescapés de la catastrophe sont arrivés, photo: CTK

As the phenomenal death toll continues to rise in the wake of Sunday's Indian Ocean catastrophe, over 200 Czechs are still unaccounted for. While efforts are being made to locate them, there was some good news on Tuesday, when the first plane-load of Czechs returned from disaster-hit Sri Lanka. There were emotional scenes as travellers, tired but relieved, were re-united with their families.

Czech tourists are back from Sri Lanka, photo: CTK
Prague's Ruzyne airport on Tuesday afternoon, where over 200 Czech travellers were re-united with their families after their terrifying ordeal in Sri Lanka. Vladimir Siuda had planned the trip with his wife as a honeymoon, but it turned into a nightmare.

"We were the first time in Sri Lanka. It was our honeymoon. We were in southwest of Sri Lanka in Kogala Village - Kogala Beach. It's a little town near the sea. It's a beautiful place, but now it is destroyed. There are buses overturned, houses damaged...."

Vladimir and Katerina were staying in a bungalow only 30 metres from the beach. It was a beautiful morning and they were planning their day when the wave hit. They tried to hide inside the house but the water pressure was so strong that the door gave in. As she tried to hold it back, Katerina's leg was broken. With a trembling voice, she said it was a miracle she and her husband survived.

Czech tourists are back from Sri Lanka, photo: CTK
"Our hotel was totally destroyed; we had no place to sleep. But we were lucky because a local person took care of us. Others were not so lucky. They slept outside in front of a church or in barracks. There were lots of dead bodies around. The man then helped us to find the rest of our group and drove us inland, and then we had to make our own way to the capital Colombo."

The Czech foreign minister Cyril Svoboda also came to Prague airport to greet the survivors on Tuesday.

Czech foreign minister Cyril Svoboda, photo: CTK
"I am here just to welcome all the citizens who are now back to the Czech Republic. We're trying to do our best to help them. I believe we will be as flexible as possible to be on the side of those who are now suffering."

The Czech Foreign Ministry is now also organizing humanitarian aid to help the affected countries.

"We are ready to help the people who are in the region, so we are organizing humanitarian aid. I am going to promise that the Czech government will be very generous.

What is the very first aid that the Czech government is going to provide?

"We have been asked for water and some medical care. But the priority number one is water."

The figure of 200 missing is down considerably since early Tuesday morning, when almost 400 Czechs were unaccounted for. Officials are hoping those who are still unaccounted for get in touch soon, as telecommunications improve in disaster hit areas.