The Boxing Day tsunami in 2004 brought widespread loss of life and destruction to most of the coastal communities of Sri Lanka. Communities attempting to make sense of the natural disaster and subsequent destruction struggle to describe such unusual and cataclysmic events, which can transform benign physical local environments into disaster zones. Natural disasters force people to rethink the relationship between culture and nature, often using the bricolage of available signs and concepts. This case study uses data from Sri Lankan English-language newspapers, in-depth interviews and a focus group to identify prominent themes in the recollections of the tsunami and its aftermath. Four themes are drawn primarily from oral narratives of a small coastal community near Galle in the south: monster and monsterisation of victims; metaphysical reciprocity; reconsideration of mythical events; and unique corporeality. Arguably, these themes resonate to varying degrees with descriptive and explanatory force to facilitate psychological recovery for those affected. The findings suggest that communities affected by natural disasters make sense of traumatic events through descriptions and narratives that give symbolic and/or ideological agency to events in an effort to rationalise them and restore order to people's lives and place in the universe.