January 5, 2005: Headlines: COS - Sri Lanka: Tsunami: Nashua Telegraph: RPCV Rick Modica saw devastation in Sri Lanka first-hand

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Sri Lanka: Peace Corps Sri Lanka: The Peace Corps in Sri Lanka: January 5, 2005: Headlines: COS - Sri Lanka: Tsunami: Nashua Telegraph: RPCV Rick Modica saw devastation in Sri Lanka first-hand

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RPCV Rick Modica saw devastation in Sri Lanka first-hand

RPCV Rick Modica saw devastation in Sri Lanka first-hand

RPCV Rick Modica saw devastation in Sri Lanka first-hand

Former city teacher saw devastation first-hand

By ANNE LUNDREGAN, Telegraph Staff
Published: Wednesday, Jan. 5, 2005

When Rich Modica looked outside his hotel room, he noticed what looked like a trickle of water coming down the road.

What he mistook for high tide soon violently swamped his ground-floor room with chest-high water and left him and his companion fleeing for shelter.

Modica, a former teacher at Nashua’s Fairgrounds Middle School, was vacationing in Sri Lanka when the Indian Ocean tsunami struck Dec. 26.

An estimated 150,000 people died in the disaster and the international community is flooding the area with aid including antibiotics, food and clothing to help the homeless and injured.

The 41-year-old from Litchfield currently lives in Oman, where he’s a guidance counselor at a private school.

Since leaving Sri Lanka last week, Modica has sent an e-mail to friends and family in the Nashua area with the subject heading “Happy New Year from a tsunami survivor.”

The tsunami’s impact was massive, he wrote.

“The devastation was surreal,” Modica wrote in an e-mail. “The road was littered with trees, cars and debris from homes and hotels. There wasn’t much left standing.”

Swept away

The day after Christmas, Modica was brushing his teeth on the patio when he noticed water coming toward the hotel, which was slightly set back from the beach. About 10 seconds after closing the door, it was “violently” thrown open and water began pouring in.

Within seconds, he was up to his waist in dirty water. His female companion was able to make it out the room. The water, debris and furniture began pushing Modica toward the back of the room.

“And it was at this moment that I thought that I was going to drown because the water was still rushing into the room,” he wrote in the e-mail.

He later told his father that he saw his life flash before his eyes.

Eventually he was able to make it outside where he saw his companion hanging onto a palm tree with both legs wrapped around it.

Modica grabbed an exposed beam from the roof overhang.

“As we are holding on, we can see trees being uprooted, house(s) collapsing, walls being pushed over, debris being swept down the road,” he wrote.

He noticed two local women who appeared to be standing on a little wall around the patio. One of the woman gestured that her child had been swept away.

“Words can’t describe how I felt,” he wrote.

After the water subsided, Modica was able to make it back to their room and grab their passports and money.

Following local residents they walked towards a hill in waist-high water and debris.

“I don’t know how long we were making our way through this,” he wrote. “All I do know is that every time I looked back I could see more water coming up from the beach.”

The local residents helped the tourists cope by bringing bottled water and sharing crackers and cookies. Once the group made it to a dry area inland, tourists made a list of survivors.

After someone arrived with a radio, they were able to hear the news about what was going on around them.

They were eventually able to start traveling inland, stopping at a resident’s house where they were able to send brief e-mails to alert relatives they were safe. Modica and his friend found a place to stay in a village, where he was able to call his family.

Fearing the worst

Back home, his family spent the day in their Litchfield home switching between Fox News and CNN looking for news.

“We woke up in the early morning and heard 1,000 had died in Sri Lanka,” said his father, Rich. “We thought that was a lot of people.”

The father also called the State Department, which transferred him to the embassy. He was told that if he heard from his son, to call the embassy.

“They were just as confused as everyone else,” Modica’s father recalled.

Several hours after the tsunami, Modica was able to send his parents a one-line e-mail saying that he was okay, and promised he would call. He called later that day and in the brief conversation let them know he was alive and trying to make his way to the country’s capital.

After that, it would be several days before they would hear from him again. In the interim, Modica’s father regularly checked in with the State Department.

Even though they had heard from him, they were concerned about his safety, he said.

“Not hearing from him for several days was mind boggling,” Modica’s father said.

Other than some scrapes and bruises, his son is fine, his father said. He lost most of his possessions, such as his clothing and digital camera.

However, Modica’s father was quick to note those things can be replaced.

They’re hoping to see their son for several weeks this summer. His employment abroad is just one of several sojourns Modica has taken over the years.

In addition to living in West Africa as a Peace Corps volunteer, Modica led several trips abroad as a teacher.

His parents are still pretty emotional about the experience.

“We’re glad the way it turned out for him,” Modica’s father said. “We empathize and sympathize for all the victims and their living families.”
Anne Lundregan can be reached at 594-6449 or lundregana@telegraph-nh.com.

When this story was posted in January 2005, this was on the front page of PCOL:

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Story Source: Nashua Telegraph

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Sri Lanka; Tsunami



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