Greens MLC Ian Cohen stands among the ruins of a building at Hikkaduwa in Sri Lanka.
Greens MLC Ian Cohen stands among the ruins of a building at Hikkaduwa in Sri Lanka.

Cohen helps desperate villagers

By JANN BURMESTER

After surviving the deadly tsunami in Sri Lanka, Broken Head-based MLC Ian Cohen has remained in the country trying desperately to help local villagers rebuild their lives.

Mr Cohen was on a surfing holiday in the village of Hikkaduwa when the tsunami hit on Boxing Day.

He had only arrived in the popular surfing and diving town just hours before and had just finished waxing his board at his hut on the water's edge when he saw the ocean welling up.

He survived 10 minutes of terror huddled behind a concrete support wall as massive waves crashed over him.

"I was lucky, it's the luck of the draw," he said.

"If I'd been asleep and the wall had fallen on me, I would be dead."

Mr Cohen first visited Hikkaduwa in 1975 and over the years he has made many friends.

When news of the tsunami broke, close friend and Byron Shire mayor Jan Barham spent many anxious hours waiting to hear that Mr Cohen had survived.

"Ian phoned me yesterday and he has joined forces with some Green groups in Hikkaduwa and today (Wednesday) he is travelling to Colombo to meet Government officials in an effort to provide some sort of relief to the people of Hikkaduwa," Cr Barhman said.

"He particularly wants to get some infrastructure in place and to help those people who owned surf and diving businesses on the beachfront."

Mr Cohen plans to stay in Sri Lanka until January 19.

Cr Barham said she had been inundated with calls from local people who wanted to help.

"I've had offers of money and clothes. Many people in Byron have a connection with Hikkaduwa and so they want to help," she said.

"I will be asking the council to set up a sister town relationship with Hikkaduwa so we can provide ongoing support."

Cr Barham said she had been in contact with a number of people who were regular visitors to Hikkaduwa and they were hoping to hold a fundraising night at the end of January.


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