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The Rediff Special/A Ganesh Nadar
February 10, 2005
Six weeks ago, the tsunami devastated Tamil Nadu, killing thousands of people and leaving many thousands more without families, homes and livelihood.
rediff.com correspondents travel to the districts most affected by the catastrophe to find out how the administration is coping with the aftermath and how the survivors are rebuilding their lives. An ongoing series:
Among the three districts in Tamil Nadu worst hit by the tsunami, Cuddalore is the only one where an attempt had been made to get the fishermen to venture out into the sea. District Collector Gagandeep Singh Bedi had gone with the fishermen of Talaguda and then eaten the cooked catch with them -- to allay public fears of the fish being unsafe for consumption.
When we visited Talaguda, there was one solitary boat coming back from the sea. The fisherman said he had gone only 500 metres into the sea, and for just a short time. He caught 40 fish. He said it was a sampling trip.
In Madavapallam, 20 km from Cuddalore, 10 boats had gone out to the sea. The average fishing trip lasts for eight hours but these fishermen came back in half-an-hour. They were scared. They got very few fish, so they gave the catch to the village women to cook. They said they would not go fishing till all the 18 surrounding fishermen's villages went. If one village went out to fish, people from the other 17 villages would certainly beat them up.
Sonahalli, a Bangalore based non-governmental organisation, repaired the Madavapallam fishermen's vallams (medium-sized boats) and gave them new nets. Other villages have not been so lucky.
The collector told the Madavapallam fishermen he would provide them police escort to bring their catch to the Cuddalore fish market. They refused -- police escorts are a temporary solution. The collector gave them another option: they could bring the fish to their village and he would ask the fisheries department to buy it from them and sell it elsewhere. The Madavapallam villagers said they would not break the unity of the fishermen.
Return to Life
Bollywood star Vivek Oberoi's Project hope has constructed 100 temporary shelters in Devanamapattinam. While the government shelters are made up of fireproof board and get very hot, his are made up of coconut leaves and stay cool.
The women cook outside the house and are very careful with fire. They don't allow their men to smoke inside the houses. They all know Vivek; they see him every day. He had screened one of his movies here. They don't know the name of the movie but they say it is the Hindi version (Saathiya) of the Tamil movie Alaypayuthe.
Priyanka finds a home
Though most of the relief camps in the state have shut shop, the one in Devanamapattinam is still on. It provides three meals a day, and milk for children in the evening.
The collector says 12,000 permanent homes would be built for the tsunami hit. Each home would cost Rs 1 lakh (Rs 100,000) to make. He says an estimated Rs 500 crore (Rs 5 billion) and anything between six months to one year would be needed for comprehensive rehabilitation.
The lost fishermen of Talaguda
The state-run orphanage, bang in the middle of Cuddalore town, is noisy with children playing about. It is on the same street as the District Social Welfare Office that operates the orphanage. There is a notice saying tsunami kids are not available for adoption.
The district social welfare officer Grace says the children were sad initially, but after they started attending school they had become happier. Four of the girls have not restarted school as the transfer certificates from their old school have not arrived. One girl says she will leave the orphanage the day she gets admission in school.
Nagapattinam copes with the aftermath
Grace says she will have to send one of the girls back as she had lied. Both her parents are alive.
There are four young girls, who have completed 12th standard, to look after the kids. One of them escorts the children to school.
A superintendent is in charge of the orphanage. And the way 11-month-old Abhinaya, a tsunami orphan, sticks to her would make any mother proud.