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Sri Lanka train survivor describes wall of water


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Ravindra describes surviving the tsunamis in Sri Lanka.
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LONDON, England (CNN) -- British tsunami survivor Shenth Ravindra said he didn't know what was happening when the Queen of the Sea passenger train jerked to a stop near the Sri Lankan town of Galle -- he just heard screams and saw people running in terror.

Ravindra was one of the few people who survived when the powerful waves swept inland on Sunday, knocking the crowded train off of its tracks. More than 1,000 people were on the train. Rescuers have recovered more than 200 bodies, but hundreds of people are still missing.

Ravindra, 25, said that when he first heard the commotion he thought that it might have been part of a religious celebration marking Poya day, a Buddhist holiday celebrating the full moon.

Then he saw the people's faces.

"I didn't still quite know what was going on ... I didn't know what it could be, but I saw a lot of terror on people's faces," Ravindra told CNN.

Then he heard a crash and saw the water rushing in.

"Suddenly I felt a shunt and the train moved off the tracks. I could see it being [detached] from the other carriages," he said. "And then as the water started to rush in the train carriage started to tilt ... at which point I fell against one of the doorways and water started to fill up -- up to my neck."

'A cliff face of water'

The second wave hit about a half-hour later with "an almighty crash," he said.

"This wave took up, it must have been 85 percent of the horizon, and it was coming toward us," Ravindra said. "It wasn't a wave, as such, like a curl with surf, it was just a wall, like a cliff face of water and coming straight for us."

He said there was a lot of panic as passengers tried to brace themselves and hang on to the children on board.

"The second wave hit the train as it was at this angle and it sort of pushed the train inland to the point where it got wedged against the house. And I was able to jump from the top of this train to the top of this house and climb up as high up onto the roof as possible," Ravindra said.

The train was completely submerged by this time and the water continued to rise.

"Tiles were starting to fall from the roof, the foundation of the house was starting to shake," he said. "A coconut tree by the sheer force of the water was starting to cut through the house and there were other people on the roof as well and they were screaming and shouting as well."

'Sea of dead bodies'

Ravindra said he decided to swim for it because he was afraid the house would collapse, or that there would be another wave.

"There was like a sea of dead bodies, children and women mainly ... and I had to clear a path through the water by pushing those people away and heading as far inland as possible," he said.

When he got to dry land, he met an English-speaking Sri Lankan woman, who offered to let him stay with her uncle, who lived nearby. The woman's mother was lost in the tsunami.

Ravindra was able to use the uncle's telephone to reach the British embassy, which let his mother know he was OK except for a cut on his foot.

He was reunited with his mother Thursday at London's Heathrow Airport.

His mother praised the quick action of the British government in notifying her that Ravindra was alive and well.

"At about 7 o'clock on the Boxing Day, my cousin rang and told me that there is something going on in Sri Lanka, sort of an earthquake. So quickly, I put the television on and they started telling that... they said at first it was an earthquake, but later only I knew that it was like a tidal wave. However, I was watching and I was thinking, how am I going to get a hold of him?

"You won't believe, within an hour I got a call from the High Commission saying that he had rang them and that he is all right, except for the fact that he has a big cut on his leg," she said.

Ravindra thinks his experience will give him a new perspective of life.

"I haven't had time to sit down and think about what has happened but I know it has been an unbelievable sequence of events that enabled me to escape in the first place," he said, adding that "I won't be complaining about being unlucky in anything in life ever again."

-- CNN's Becky Anderson contributed to this report.


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