'There was a lot of this, you know,' says Mohammad Haniffa, hitching up his sarong and, with suitable modesty, attempting a provocative disco wiggle of the hips. 'This was Allah's response,' he declares, standing in the rubble of his beachfront guest house. The people of Arugam Bay had been building a nice living off the freewheeling surf- and sun-seekers who were heading to the east coast in ever greater numbers since the signing of a ceasefire between the government and the Tamil Tigers in February 2002. There was dancing and drinking on the beach - hence the wiggle - but in a community where 85 per cent of people belong to the country's Muslim minority, was it right? Since the tsunami, Mr Haniffa - a justice of the peace and proprietor of the Sun Rise Beach Hotel - has changed his mind. 'Before I was bad, but now I am good,' he says. If he is right, then the people of Sri Lanka's north and east have paid a terrible price for their sins. This area of eastern Sri Lanka was not devastated by the 20 years of civil war in the way the Jaffna Peninsula, further north, was. Apart from 12 months or so in 1989 and 1990, fighting was infrequent. When the Tigers made an appearance it was more likely to be an attempt at extortion. But it was enough to keep most visitors - both foreign and Sri Lankan - away from the area's beautiful beaches and wildlife parks. Peace promised good times at last. 'After 20 years of losses, we made our first profit last year,' says Merete Scheller, a Danish national who runs the Stardust Beach Hotel. The hotel bore the brunt of the tsunami. Ms Scheller's husband, Per Goodman, was one of 250 to die in Arugam Bay, which had a pre-tsunami population of about 4,000. The terror that must have swept through the village is unimaginable. Villagers recall at least eight waves thundering in from the east, though Ms Scheller challenges the use of the word 'wave': 'It wasn't a wave, it was the sea.' They began at 9.30am and continued to arrive until 2pm, each more or less the same height. The water forced her, staff and guests up to the two-storey building's roof, and swept through the upper storey over a metre deep - at least six metres above the ground. Now, for the first 100 metres or so inland from the beach, there is scarcely a building left worthy of the name. Still standing are the load-bearing walls of some homes; they look like stage sets, complete with families acting out their daily routines. People are still dazed and, at times, quietly despairing. But in some ways Arugam Bay was lucky. 'It's the most internationalised place along the coast,' says Chris Dixon, an engineer with a small US-based NGO, Relief International. 'Some of these people could pick up a phone to foreigners and ask for help.' Some have, and temporary homes, tourist chalets and replacement boats are being paid for and physically built by young backpackers and mainstream tourists. But they are the lucky few. Most will have to rebuild alone. Hundreds of boats that provided incomes of up to 500 rupees ($90) a day for thousands of men were lost. 'Everyone is dreaming tourists will come back,' says Manel Manglilka, who wants to rebuild her small guest house but cannot afford the soaring rates charged by local carpenters. There have been some important promises of support. The village hosted the British surfing championships last year, and the organisers have assured locals they will return this year. Wells that were swamped with saltwater are being pumped out, and new hand-pumps installed for drinking water. But the village is still dependent on tankers organised by the Sewa Lanka NGO, which bring water twice a day. The village has pulled together, locals say. Those with the means are cooking hundreds of free meals for people who lost everything and relief workers. A fund administered by the village Rotary committee pays for hospital visits and small investments, to get businesses up and running. At the Siam View Hotel, a message scrawled on a marker board reads: 'Remember, this is not the end; it's a chance for a new beginning for us all.' Says Ms Scheller: 'At least there is a bright side to what happened here.'