Arup civil engineer Anthony Peter arrives in the coastal area of Ampara in Sri Lanka to help build temporary shelters for victims of the Tsunami.

After arriving back in Colombo last Sunday evening from the south I left early the next morning for Ampara on the east coast. The journey was 10 hours and I saw a cross section of Sri Lanka. Within a few hours we were passing imposing peaks, covered in thick jungle and shrouded in clouds. By early afternoon we skirted a wildlife park and saw our first elephant.

The few days in Ampara were interesting. The coastal areas are extremely dense so the devastation is massive. More substantial buildings are still standing, but anything less than solid has been totally destroyed. Even a month on there is still a lot of rubble to be cleared, so the JCB’s hired by GOAL were working constantly. The rubble has been reused where possible; over 1000m³ was used to repair the walls of nearby paddy fields which were damaged during the monsoon rains that followed the tsunami.

The coastal strip has very little unused space, so we were given sites to build our temporary shelters by the local government. The sites varied in shape and size but we needed to fit as many in as possible. The shelter design used in the south was a starting point but we modified it so that it could fit a number of families into one building.

Construction of this design began under the supervision of three GOAL staff; meanwhile I had to return to Colombo to attend coordination meetings. Thankfully I flew back from a nearby military base taking a small eight-seater de-Havilland. The flight lasted only an hour but it took us over the mountains and the lakes, which form the country’s 2000 year-old irrigation system.

There are almost 50 expatriate GOAL staff in Sri Lanka at the moment from a wide range of backgrounds. As well as engineers, there are doctors and nurses, logicians, accountants and counsellors and over the next few weeks some will be replaced with local staff. For some - including me - this is the first disaster region they have worked in while others have worked for aid agencies for a long time. In the evenings they compare stories of the different war zones they have worked in ranging from Kosovo, Congo, Afghanistan and Iraq.

Having set up operations here, some of the more experienced staff will fly directly to Dafur in Sudan where the crisis continues.