Within minutes of the first blasts in Sri Lanka, social media was abuzz with photos and videos of the aftermath. Men, women and children crying and screaming. Some lay motionless. Dead or dying.
It was clear from the accumulating posts on social media that blasts had occurred in multiple locations throughout Sri Lanka, and had likely been a coordinated attack.
The first reports of explosions came at about 08:45 (03:15 GMT) local time — with six blasts reported close together at churches and luxury hotels, including the Shangri-La Hotel, Cinnamon Hotel and The Kingsbury.
The church blasts targeted Christians attending Easter Sunday mass, on the most important day of the Christian calendar; while the hotel blasts targeted the restaurants, where foreigners were having breakfast.
Within two-hours of the blasts, Traveller Assist received a phone call from a desperate family member. She reported that her son and his wife are staying at the Shangri-La Hotel and she had not been able to contact them by phone.
As the medical and security assistance provider for the couples travel insurer, our team contacted the Shangri-La Hotel who amazingly, in the chaos, answered their phone.
They confirmed the couple had been at breakfast when the blast occurred, but that’s all they knew. They advised that the hotel had been evacuated and explained that the restaurant had been very badly damaged.
Our team informed the special risks insurer of the situation. The couple are HNWI policy holders and as such, the insurer made a quick decision to deploy two members of the Traveller Assist, Crisis Response team to Sri Lanka.
By now, more calls were being received by our assistance centre, both from tourists who had been affected and from worried family members who could not contact their loved ones.
The closest member of our crisis team was in Mumbai on other business, a two and a half hour flight away. The next closest was in Kuala Lumpur, just over three and a half hours away.
Traveller Assist activated both members of the team who immediately made their way to airports. Within seven-hours, both had arrived in Colombo and were immediately informed of a 6pm to 6am curfew.
Crisis Response team member, Craig Wright said, “Upon arriving in Colombo, there’s a large military presence on the streets. There’s a strict curfew until 6am and the government has blocked social media, including WhatsApp. Travellers with flight tickets will be allowed to travel to the airport and night flights are still operating. Allow four-hours before your flight due to extra security checks. We’ll know more tomorrow once the curfew has been lifted and we have free movement.
At time of writing, AFP is reporting that at least 207 people have been killed, including 45 foreigners, and more than 450 have been injured, including tourists and expats.
The FCO has confirmed that five Britons have lost their lives, and the US state department has said that several Americans are among the dead. It is also reported that Dutch, Danish, Portuguese and Turkish citizens have also lost their lives.
Traveller Assist Head of Assistance, Danny Kaine said, “We are working tirelessly to provide all possible assistance to travellers and their families during this very difficult time. Our thoughts are with all those affected.
Tourists and expats in Sri Lanka are advised to make contact with family members, via phone or email, and to contact your Embassy. If you require assistance, contact your travel insurance provider as soon as possible.
Traveller Assist was featured in the International Travel Insurance Journal