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'We survived because we were up early'
December 30, 2004 03:21 IST
Last Updated: December 30, 2004 16:03 IST
Mumbai resident Navin Shetty was vacationing in Pondicherry with friends when tsunamis struck the east coast of India on December 26.
He survived the ordeal and called up his family at 9.30 am, just 30 minute after the waters first began surging inland, and told his sister that an earthquake had struck and all his belongings had drowned in the sea. He sought the phone number of his cousin, who lives in Chennai.
His mother is grateful to god. "I used to pray for the safety of my children. Thanks to that, my son survived and is back home safe. Now my belief in god has become stronger than ever," she says.
On December 28, Navin was relaxing at home with plans to visit the Siddhivinayak temple in Dadar in the evening with the friends who were with him in Pondicherry. Inbetween he told rediff.com what exactly happened on December 26.
We had made plans to visit Pondicherry in advance. We had booked a room in St James Court after seeing pictures of the resort and its location, on the Internet. The resort has eight cottages facing the sea.
We landed in Chennai on December 25 and reached Pondicherry at 4:35 pm. On reaching the resort, we found that it was not as good as the pictures we had seen on the Internet. Since the location was very good, we decided to spend the night in that resort and search for some other resort the next morning.
We got up early the morning, December 26, and were sitting in front of our cottage, facing the sea, planning the day's agenda.
I strolled down to the beach but found it very dirty and dangerous. I came back immediately.
I had noticed a family, including three children, on the beach. One of my friends commented that it was not wise to let kids on the beach.
One of us was not keeping well so she went inside the cottage to sleep. Around 9 am, all of us decided to bathe and find some other resort.
That very moment, water started to surge inwards from the beach. Initially, we were amused but then realised that the water had reached up to the compound wall.
Before we knew it, a huge wave over six feet in height was upon us. We got worried and began to run outside the resort. When we reached the gate, we realised that our friend was still inside the room. I turned back and went to the room.
I knocked on the door and called her out. But when she did not appear, I realised she must not have heard me and went inside the room.
I saw her standing on the bed surrounded by water. Seeing the water, she was afraid to come out. I dragged her with me.
By that time, the entire 200 ft long compound wall had been razed and water was all around the cottage. There was water up to my waist (Navin is a tall person).
I told my friend not to let go of my hand. We were moving out slowly by holding on to the remains of the cottage but another wave raised the water level up to my neck while my friend was completely submerged.
We held on to each other's hand and headed towards a spot 15 ft away from our cottage, which was at a higher level.
We had trouble moving because furniture was floating around and banging into us. I could see our belongings floating in the water.
My friend's leg was badly injured but we managed to reach the main gate. All this happened within a few seconds.
Once outside the gate, we ran till we reached the main road, which was 150 ft from resort. Water had not reached the main road.
After a few seconds, water began to reach the road but within a few minutes, it had begun receding and everything became calm.
We immediately went back to the cottage to retrieve our belongings.
On the beach, some villagers began saying that the water was again coming inland but I continued searching for our belongings. We managed to retrieve some of our baggage.
Though the waves continued, the water had begun receding. But each wave threw up dead bodies. I was there for just a few minutes but may have seen about 20-25 bodies being thrown out of the sea.
People on the main road were not aware what exactly happened and it was difficult to explain because 10-15 ft high waves can be seen only in movies.
I called up my residence in Mumbai and informed them about the situation. I took the phone number of a cousin who lives in Chennai.
We spent the next one hour fuguring out how to reach Chennai. Language was a big problem in Pondicherry. Nobody there understands English or Hindi.
In our resort, only the manager understood English. We were lucky to come across some students living in a hostel nearby. They helped us.
But it was very difficult to find transport to reach Chennai. Two of my friends were in a state of shock and wanted to leave the place immediately. We managed to hire a car and reach Chennai at 4.35 pm in the same condition as we were in the morning.
Chennai was also facing the same problem, but apart from the coastal areas, the situation was normal. My cousin arranged for flight tickets and we left for Mumbai on December 27.
In Mumbai, I saw the news on television but it was nothing compared to what we had witnessed. I think we would be part of the toll if we had still been in bed.
(Navin Shetty spoke to Vijay Singh)
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