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Panicked at first, Sri Lankans anxious over what's to come

A Sri Lankan Police officer inspects a blast spot at the Shangri-la hotel in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Sunday, April 21, 2019. More than hundred people were killed and hundreds more hospitalized from injuries in near simultaneous blasts that rocked three churches and three luxury hotels in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday, a security official told The Associated Press, in the biggest violence in the South Asian country since its civil war ended a decade ago. [Associated Press]
Published Apr. 22

Bhanuka Harischandra was running a little late for his meeting Sunday.

As a car carrying him pulled into the back entrance of the luxury Shangri-La Hotel in Sri Lanka's capital of Colombo, he realized something was wrong.

People were telling him not to come in, it wasn't safe. Still, the car pulled around to the front of the hotel and Harischandra saw the aftermath of a bombing. People were being evacuated, others were being dragged. Blood and ambulances were everywhere.

"It was panic mode," Harischandra, a 24-year-old founder of a tech marketing company, said by telephone later in the day. "I didn't process it for a while."

He decided to go to the Cinnamon Grand Hotel, where he thought it would be safe. But just after he was dropped at the luxury hotel and about to enter the building, he heard another bomb go off.

Now he was being evacuated. Soot and ash fell on his white sweat shirt.

His car had left, so he hailed a motorized rickshaw and went to meet friends at a coffee shop. They contacted other friends, trying to make sure everyone they knew was safe.

It was too soon to think about what it might mean.

Over the course of the day, a series of bombs exploded, including at churches and luxury hotels, killing more than 200 people. The Easter Sunday violence was the deadliest the South Asian island country has seen since a bloody civil war ended a decade ago.

Many Sri Lankans remember well the terror of the 26-year war. But not Harischandra, who was just a teenager when it officially ended. Toward the end, the conflict was not in Colombo. Growing up, he was mostly aware of his parents' anxiety about safety, not of actual fighting.

Now their anxiety is back.

"For them, it's a bit of a different situation," he said. "They're afraid this might start racial violence."

On Sunday night, he was with his family, observing a curfew. He said there was "a lot of tension" in the air, but he was also hoping that the worst might be over: It had been a few hours since the last blast.

Harischandra was heartened by the fact that his social media feed was flooded with photos of the lines of people waiting to give blood. Lines so long "you can't see the end."

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