Inside, it was clear the president was out of time. The generals told him it was time to go.
Video footage later emerged on social media of men rushing suitcases onto a navy vessel. The president was ushered through a back gate to the navy base behind the mansion. From there, he would set off in Colombo’s waters.
As he escaped, protesters hot-wired an army truck and rammed it through the final gate. Unable to hold the line, the security forces gave way. Hundreds of people flooded the compound, cheering and chanting as they filled the grand ballroom, climbed the spiral staircase, and occupied the president’s bedroom.
Among them was Ms. Muthukumarana, who felt a tinge of envy as she admired the expensive wardrobe of the president’s wife. That feeling quickly turned to anger, “realizing how much we had suffered to sustain their habits,” she said.
Mr. Srinath, the taxi driver, picked up his wife on his motorbike headed toward the mansion.
“The army guy told me, don’t worry, we will watch your bike,” he said.
Husband and wife posed for a selfie on the stairway, Wasana still wearing her helmet.
Hours after the takeover, protesters put the word out that the mansion was now open to the public. Families waited in a line wrapping around the block to enter what had effectively become a free museum. Once inside, they studied the paintings and chandeliers, swam in the pool, sat around a long teak dining table and had picnics in the garden.