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Rediff.com  » News » Surveying the Tamil Nadu coast: Day 1

Surveying the Tamil Nadu coast: Day 1

Last updated on: January 12, 2005 20:59 IST

On Thursday, this correspondent began to travel northwards from Kanyakumari to Chennai along the coast of Tamil Nadu that was on December 26 battered by tsunamis.

In Kanyakumari, tourists rise before sunrise and head for the beach to watch the sunrise; supposed to be very beautiful experience.

On Thursday morning, they were disappointed because the sky was cloudy.

Ten minutes after sunrise the cops blew their whistles and asked people to leave. You could still see clothes, slippers, shoes, and a transistor on the beach, left by people who had left in a hurry on December 26 when the tsunamis had struck.

On that day, almost a thousand people had been trapped on the Vivekananda rock memorial from 10am to 6pm. There is no official record of any death but locals say that 50 people were standing in the water when the tsunamis struck. They were all tourists, mostly Ayappa devotees.

The fury of the tsunamis can be imagined when you see the remains of a fibre boat on the rocks. It had been picked up by the tide and slammed on the rocks so hard that it had split into two.

Shopkeepers were complaining that the tourists had stopped coming and their business was in the doldrums.

Forty-two kilometres to the north is Uvari, which is famous for a shrine of St Anthony. There is also the Selvamatha church, which is in the shape of an aeroplane mounted on a ship.

Tsunamis had wrecked the boats in the town, but did not claim any human life. Houses near the beach have been constructed with cement and hence survived the onslaught.

Thursday, the entire village was empty because the cops were going around asking people to stay away from the beaches as more tsunamis were expected. The government was plying buses to take shift people inland. A fire brigade vehicle was also waiting on the shore. [But it turned out to be a false alarm]

Inbetween a large number of cars came roaring to the beach. They unloaded some men who marched to the beach. Some photographs were taken before they departed. Turned out the group was led by Social Welfare Minister S Karuppasamy and deputy speaker of the state assembly A Arunachalam. The dignitaries had come to click pictures of them being engaged in relief work.

An old man told rediff.com that 30 people had been bathing in the sea when the tsunamis struck. The waves picked them up like dolls and deposited them in the village. The dazed group then scurried away before they ran out of luck.

The local fishermen have given a list of lost boats and nets to the village administrative officer and are hoping the government will help them.

Six kilometres further is Kuttapanai. Here too, no lives were lost or houses damaged but 90% of the boats were damaged.

The fisherfolk explained that fibre boats could not be used even if there is a single hole in the hull. No material could seal the hole in such a way that it can withstand the pressure of water in the sea. They had to get a new boat. They too are waiting for government help.

Another 5km away is Kudathali village. It is about 200 feet above sea level and hence escaped the onslaught by the tsunamis.

Periathalai is a big village with 7,000 people. It is 70km from Kanyakumari. The villagers are very upset. They say that at 10am, there were only small waves in the sea. The big waves came in only at 1:30pm. What was the government doing for three-and-half hours?

They could have been warned when the tsunamis struck Kanyakumari.

Many boats have been damaged. The fishermen have not cleared the mess, waiting for the government to examine it. One boat had been flung on a house whose roof collapsed.

One man John Bosco (43) lost his life while trying to save his fibre boat. He leaves behind a wife and three daughters.

Another 10km northwards along the coast, the road is very good, is a town called Manapadu. Fishermen showed rediff.com boats strewn all over the beach. They were very angry at the false alarm on Thursday, with some saying that it had created credibility problems for the government.

The fishermen were wondering when they could go back to the sea. Fishing is the only profession they know.

By evening, rediff.com covered the three districts of Kanyakumari, Tirunelveli and Tuticorin.

A Ganesh Nadar in Tuticorin