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Killer waves hit tourism in Pondy

Salil Kumar in Pondicherry | December 30, 2004 09:07 IST

The killer waves that hit the coastal areas of Pondicherry on Sunday have, apart from claiming the lives of about 535 people and causing destruction to property worth crores of rupees, driven away tourists.

The tourists left the place soon after the incident. Many who had booked rooms cancelled their reservation due to fears of aftershocks and their repercussions, which many experts cautioned against, but which never occurred.

The general mood in the town is that of uneasiness, of something remiss.

"Normally, during the peak season, there is a carnival look along the beach," says an auto-rickshaw driver. "But since Sunday, the pathways have worn a deserted look, except for a few tourists who have stood their ground," he adds.

The administration, which has recovered from the stunning blow of nature, is reconciled to the fact that the peak season this year will see a peak in loss of revenues due to a single disaster.

"We have been hit at a time when the tourist season is at its peak. So tourism has definitely been affected," says Director of Tourism Ankita Mishra.

Every hour, every minute is important

In fact, being the 50th year of Pondicherry's liberation from France and merger with the Indian Union, the administration had been organising a grand month-long shopping festival to promote tourism since December 20.

But, now the disaster has put paid to all plans of the administration.

"As of now we have suspended all events, street music, etc," says Mishra about the festival.

"The shopping festival had two aspects: one is that people purchased, for example, something worth more than Rs 500 and got coupons. They then got to take part in lucky draws. The other part was that we had functions, street plays they are out."

Around 500,000 tourists come to this tiny Union territory every year. Around 25,000 of them are foreigners. "There are also those who come for the weekend, who just touch and go. They are not registered. They are mostly from Chennai."

Mishra says that the administration is right now concentrating on relief efforts. "We will hold a review meeting in a couple of days and decide on the next course of action."

Ask her if any of the heritage buildings in the town have been affected and she replies in the negative. "They are all in a different part of town, away from the shore. So there has been no damage in that respect."

The administration is not clear if any foreign tourist has died. "We have issued circulars and notices to all hotels and guesthouses," she says. Local people can be traced much easily, she adds. "Our only point of reference [when it comes to foreigners] is hotels and guesthouses. But we have not got anything till now."

Nathalie Raisi, who lives in La Reunion, a French island in the south of the Indian Ocean, came to India on December 24 and was in Chennai when she got the news of the incident. "We wondered what had happened and then someone explained to us that the sea had come in. Later, I read The Hindu [English daily] and heard it on TV."

Ask her if the tragedy has altered her perception of Pondicherry and if it will affect tourism in the UT, she says, "Maybe, who knows."

Jacques Job [pronounced as Yob], who has come with his wife and two teenaged sons, says, "We know about it in Madurai, two hours after it happen. We discuss it in the family. We say we come, we see. If there is something bad, we change the plan. [sic]"

Till now, they say, they have felt pretty safe.

"We feel uncomfortable when we see pictures on TV and papers. But here it is no problem," he says.

His wife, who does not wish to reveal her name, says, "All along the sea we see people standing and asking themselves, 'What has gone wrong?'"

"We understand the problems. We know what has happened. The last time it happened was 40 years ago.

"Life continues."

Tsunami Strikes: The Complete Coverage

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Number of User Comments: 1

Sub: We were in Pondicherry on 26th Dec

We reached Pondicherry on 25th dec and were on the beach till 9.00 pm. Everything was so peaceful and quite. The sea was at its ...

Posted by nidhi agarwal


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