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'Everything happened in 5 minutes'
December 27, 2004 21:38 IST
Anton Raj, a resident of Kodimunai village in Kanyakumari district of Tamil Nadu survived Sunday's disaster but the tsunamis have turned his life topsy-turvy. He described to rediff.com the scene in his village.
The tidal waves have done enough damage in five minutes to leave us in the dumps for years. We are left to our fate now. We have nobody to turn to for help.
My village is a little more than 20km from Kanyakumari. I work as a reader in a college in town.
The waves hit us around 9.45am. I immediately rushed to my native village Kodimunai, which is right on the Tamil Nadu coast. I was worried about my parents.
While travelling from Nagercoil to Kodimunai, I saw three dead bodies on the road and came across hundreds of people looking for transport.
I saw the devastation at Muttam village. People had gathered on the road and were saying that more than 200 people were missing.
All of us were shocked and surprised. We felt absolutely helpless, but the locals were helping each other.
In my village too, 100 were dead. Crying and inconsolable, people said only one thing: everything happened in five minutes.
People said the waves did not make a noise till it hit their homes. First, water just came inside their homes but in just a few minutes, huge waves hit them and carried some away.
Many old people died because they could not run. Couples who had more than two kids also suffered because when you take two of your children, you can't leave a third or fourth one behind. The ones who could run fast managed to save their lives.
My father told me that when the sea level was rising, he and many others actually went to see it! He said it was wonderful to gaze at the rising waters.
People say that the sea was not arrogant, just silent. But within minutes, it rose to the height of a 'two-storeyed' building and swept away their homes.
My father fled on seeing that his village was getting submerged.
Around 30 villages with about 500 homes in each have been completely wiped off. When I reached Colacal village, I could see the impact of the sea; 243 bodies were recovered from about 500 homes, which had been flattened.
There was no rescue team, nobody from the state government. Police or government did not provide us even plain clothes to cover the dead bodies. There was no equipment to bury so many people.
District Collector Rajesh Meena was not at all helpful. At 4pm, fire brigade officers visited the village but left without helping us because the work of rescuing people from damaged homes was very difficult.
The priest of a local church announced that people should not spend the night in their homes or even in their villages. The priests and local social workers are active.
Government hospitals had no money to buy medicines. There were no ambulances to pick up people from the villages. The police refused to clear the dead bodies. It was a hell for us.
We felt as if we are not Indians. We were not even treated like refugees. Sri Lankan refuges are treated better than us.
The state administration didn't function at all. It's completely ineffective when faced with such events.
Relatives of the 243 deceased were put up in mandapams (marriage halls) and schools.
We went to the collector seeking rice to cook and feed the grieving people. We got only four sacks of rice to feed 20,000 people of five villages. Indian collectors have no training in managing such disasters. Something should be done about it.
Each and every family of my area has lost a relative, their home and their livelihood. Fishermen have lost fishing nets and catamarans, which could cost anything between Rs 200,000-500,000. Nobody was able to save their fishing nets or boats.
Our biggest worry now is drinking water. We used to draw water from the backwaters and rivers nearby. But now, sea water has entered these places. Secondly, there were several bodies in the sea and this has contaminated the sources of drinking waters.
We approached the local MLA to talk to the health minister. The government should urgently supply potable water.
Another problem is the lack of electricity and non-working telephones lines. Thieves are looting our belongings but the police is not taking cognisance. We have no idea what to do.
Monday morning, people from the collector's office visited mandapams and schools where people have taken shelter.
They got together a few poor people and asked them to tell Chief Minister Jayalalithaa that the local administration is doing a good job. That is just not true.
The chief minister visited our area but we were not allowed to meet her. She promised Rs 100,000 per family and also boats and fishing nets.
The sea isolated us before and now the government's apathy is isolating us. The chief minister is being misguided.
Today, some social activists served us lemon rice in packets.
The government of India should appoint a disaster management expert in the local administration to take charge during such contingencies.
What is most astonishing is that just 24 hours later, there is no sign of the sea near our homes. It is hard to believe that just yesterday, sea waters had wrecked havoc in our lives.
Today, I could only see devastated homes.
(Anton Raj spoke to Sheela Bhatt)
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