'It was a river of blood': Dashcam footage shows explosion outside Sri Lanka church

Sri Lankan military officials stand guard in front of the St. Anthony's Church after an explosion.
PHOTO: Reuters

COLOMBO - The explosion outside Sri Lanka's St Anthony's Church in Colombo was captured on video by a vehicle's dashcam on Sunday morning (April 21).

It was one of three churches hit and where one of the first explosions was reported. At least 207 have been killed in eight blasts on Easter Sunday.

The video shows fire and black smoke billowing from the church building. Vehicles are seen moving away from the church, with some going against traffic in a bid to get away.

One van is seen driving over the road divider to get away from the scene, and shops in the vicinity were shuttered.

Witnesses of the blast said many had died inside the church.

Shopkeeper N. A. Sumanapala told New York Times he ran inside the building to help.

"It was a river of blood," he said.

"The priest came out and he was covered in blood and he seemed to be covered in someone else's skin."

A Reuters source in the police bomb squad said that casualties were being evacuated. At least 160 people injured in the St Anthony's blast had been admitted to the Colombo National Hospital by mid-morning, an official told AFP.

An AFP photographer at the church saw bodies lying on the floor, some draped with scarves and clothes.

Much of the church roof was blown out in the explosion, with roof tiles, glass and splintered wood littering the floor along with pools of blood.

A relative of a victim of the explosion at St. Anthony's Church reacts at the police mortuary in Colombo.Photo: Reuters

Witness accounts shed light on the horrific aftermath of the explosions that shocked the country.

Mr Asela Waidyalankara heard the explosion at the Tropical Inn, a small hotel near Dehiwala Zoo in Dehiwala-Mount Lavinia and went to his rooftop to check.

He told CNN that he saw two helicopters pass over the site, followed by the sound of ambulances and fire trucks.

Two people reportedly died in the explosion at the hotel, one of four hit in Colombo.

At Shangri-La hotel, one of the guests said there were around 40 casualties.

Mr Akhat Saraf, who was staying at the hotel with his wife and child, told BBC World News that two loud bangs could be heard from the 25th floor and the entire room was shaking.

Hundreds hurt as blasts hit Sri Lanka churches, hotels on Easter Sunday

  • Easter Day bomb blasts at three Sri Lankan churches and three luxury hotels killed about 100 people and wounded more than 400, a hospital director and police officials said, following a lull in major attacks since the end of the civil war 10 years ago.
  • In just one church, St. Sebastian’s in Katuwapitiya, north of Colombo, more than 50 people had been killed, a police official told Reuters, with pictures showing bodies on the ground, blood on the pews and a destroyed roof.
  • The three hotels hit were the Shangri-La Colombo, Kingsbury Hotel and Cinnamon Grand Colombo. It was unclear whether there were any casualties in the hotels.
  • St. Sebastian’s church posted pictures of destruction inside the church on its Facebook page, showing blood on pews and the floor, and requested help from the public.
  • Out of Sri Lanka’s total population of around 22 million, 70 percent are Buddhist, 12.6 percent Hindu, 9.7 percent Muslim, and 7.6 percent Christian, according to the country’s 2012 census.
  • In its 2018 report on Sri Lanka’s human rights, the U.S. State Department noted that some Christian groups and churches reported they had been pressured to end worship activities after authorities classified them as “unauthorized gatherings.”

They could not see much from their window, but decided to go down to the hotel lobby.

"I could see a lot of guests taken to different hospitals," he said, adding that police and ambulances had arrived by the time he got to the lobby.

Police and security personnel stand guard in Colombo after explosions shocked the country. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

A tourist told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation she was eating at the second-floor restaurant of the Shangri-La hotel when two blasts hit about 10 seconds apart.

She said the area had been full of visitors, including children.

"There was just screaming and everywhere I looked there was blood," she said.

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"Everyone was just hiding trying to work out what had just happened and what was going to happen and we just didn't know."


Imperial College professor Kieran Arasaratnam, a Sri Lankan who moved to the UK as a refugee 30 years ago, was also staying at the Shangri-La hotel.

He told the BBC he heard a sound like "thunder" and started running for his life.

"Everyone just started to panic, it was total chaos," he said. "I looked to the room on the right and there's blood everywhere."

"Everyone was running and a lot of people just didn't know what was going on. People had blood on their shirt and there was someone carrying a girl to the ambulance. The walls and the floor were covered in blood."

He said he could have been caught up in the blast had he left his room for breakfast at 8.45am.

He said he was currently in an emergency shelter, where he could "smell blood everywhere".

"It's awful seeing kids carried off covered in blood. I left Sri Lanka 30 years ago as a refugee and never thought I had to see this again."

Briton Julian Emmanuel and his family were staying at Colombo's Cinnamon Grand hotel when a bomb went off.

"We were in our room and heard a large explosion. It woke us up. There were ambulances, fire crew, police sirens," Mr Emmanuel, who was born in Sri Lanka, told the BBC.

"We were told there had been a bomb. Staff said some people were killed. One member of staff told me it was a suicide bomber," Mr Emmanuel said, adding that they were told to go back to their rooms.

The third hotel rocked by the blasts was the five-star Kingsbury.

Mr Simon Whitmarsh, a 55-year-old retired doctor from Wales, told the BBC he was cycling near the city of Batticaloa when he heard a "big bang" and saw "smoke billowing into the sky about half a mile away".

"Then we saw the ambulances, people crying, and we were told to leave the area," he said.

Mr Whitmarsh said he offered to help those at the local hospital, but was told the situation was in hand.

"By that stage, they had activated emergency protocols," he said. "The hospital was heavily guarded by the army, who were stopping most people going in. All the streets around it were closed. It seemed very well organised. All I did was find someone senior to see if I could help."

He said streets and roads that were bustling only hours ago were completely empty after a nationwide curfew went into effect.

"Now it's curfew, there's nothing. No vehicles, no people walking, nothing," he said. "'Stay indoors' is the message."

"London people have said they were thinking of going home, but we can't do anything until the curfew finishes."

This article was first published in The Straits Times. Permission required for reproduction.