Despite living in such close proximity to the sea, most coastal Sri Lankans cannot swim. If the population had even basic swimming techniques such as being able to float or kick a short distance to safety, the shocking death toll of December 26th might have been significantly reduced.
Up to 80% of those drowned were women and children, a result of cultural practices which keep them away from water. For reasons of decorum women would not even paddle in the sea and would certainly not be seen in a tourist pool or in the state of undress required for swimming. Not having experienced a body of water larger than a bathtub, they had no idea what to do when the sea came inland, so many floundered and drowned.