Sampath Fernando's heart sank when he heard news that 150 people died in a church he has "heaps" of memories of while growing up in Sri Lanka.

The Whangārei welder/fabricator is among more than 100 Sri Lankan families in Northland grieving for those who lost their lives in Sunday's bomb blasts in and around the capital Colombo.

A series of devastating explosions ripped through luxury hotels and churches holding Easter services on the island nation, killing at least 290 people and injuring 450 more.

At least 31 foreigners were among those that died.


The explosions were concentrated in the capital city of Colombo but also included blasts at Negombo and Kochchikade, north of the city, and Batticaloa in the east of the country.

Fernando hails from Negombo, a city on the west coast of Sri Lanka, where at least 150 people were killed during a blast at the 150-year-old St Sebastian's Church.

"My family lives not far from that church and although that church wasn't the nearest from where I lived, I still went there and have fond memories of the place," he said.

Fernando spoke to his brother-in-law on Sunday and although his family was safe, he feels for hundreds that lost their lives.

A view of St. Sebastian's Church damaged in blast in Negombo, north of Colombo, Sri Lanka. Photo / AP
A view of St. Sebastian's Church damaged in blast in Negombo, north of Colombo, Sri Lanka. Photo / AP

Another Whangārei-based Sri Lankan, Dirk Dewasurendra, said not long after the civil war ended in 2009 after nearly 30 years, the country was rocked by another disaster.

"It's sad that a religious group was targeted. Historically, we've never had any problems with any religion because we respect all religions and attend each others' festivals.

"Everyone lived peacefully over the last 10 years since the civil war ended. For something like this to now happen, especially on Easter Sunday when Christians are celebrating is very sad indeed," he said.

He made an impassioned plea for everyone to work together to stop terrorism from happening anywhere in the world.


"We don't want what happened to happen again in our country or anywhere for that matter in the name of any religion," he said.

Dewasurendra is from Kandana, a suburb in Colombo, and has lived in Whangārei for 10 years.

He said his fellow countrymen from Northland would attend a vigil to be held at the St Mary's Catholic Church in Northcote, Auckland, on April 27.

Sri Lanka is about 70 per cent Buddhists, 13 per cent Hindus, and the rest are Muslims and Christians.