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By Andre Voshart

Ryerson has heard back from 15 of the 20 students who were previously unaccounted for following the southeast Asian tsunamis, including married couple Wafiq Thaha, 26, and his wife Shazni, 21.

Thaha is a second-year Civil Engineering graduate student. He and Shazni, a fourth-year ITM student, returned to their native Sri Lanka for the winter break. Sri Lanka was one of the hardest- hit countries, leaving almost 31,000 dead.

On Dec. 25, the day before the tsunami, Thaha visited Colombo for his brother Firzan’s wedding reception. “Unfortunately, many of [the guests] took the train back [to the affected regions] the next morning when the tsunami hit,” Thaha said. “The train, which travels along the coast, was hit by the wave with only three reported survivors.”

Shazni lost 10 members of her extended family; Thaha lost two relatives. Others are still missing. Diana Ning of International Student Services at Ryerson said the office isn’t concerned about the remaining students who have yet to return.

“We expected this. Sometimes it takes two, three weeks to hear back from international students,” she said. “They are under no obligation to contact us.” Thaha witnessed the disaster first-hand travelling to Matara with his father, brothers and cousins.

He commuted daily from Colombo to help with relief, not wanting to stay overnight because of disease and the smell. “There was debris from houses on the streets,” he said. “Everywhere there was the smell of dead bodies. Going there was very depressing.”

Violent waves had swept through Thaha’s family house in Matara, sweeping furniture into the yard and destroying walls. The couple returned with their 10-month-old son Mekhael a week late to Toronto on Jan. 7, because of flight delays.

When they returned to school, Thaha’s classmates welcomed him and inquired about the safety of family. “Everyone was showing concern,” he said, “making me feel good.”

Thaha hopes to be a structural engineer and is considering returning to Sri Lanka to help with reconstruction.

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