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Home > News > Tsunami Strikes > PTI > Report

Nagapattinam administration faces uphill task

S Ramaswamy in Nagapattinam | January 01, 2005 22:54 IST

Chaotic scenes have become the order of the day in over 95 centres set up by the district administration with inmates complaining of lack of drinking water and sanitation.

The administration's apparent inability to meet the demands of the affected people is because most of the revenue officials normally expected to be involved in coordinating the relief work at the field level, had reported late for duty because they themselves are victims.

In some places, village administrative officers (VAO) had to spend money from their pocket to bury or cremate bodies and had quickly run out of funds. In Vedaranyam taluk on Friday, some VAOs were seen protesting against the threat of suspension by higher authorities for delay in disposal of retrieved bodies.

Senior officials had to pacify the agitated VAOs by saying they would be reimbursed immediately, and that they would be given some cash for future relief work.

Officials put the toll at 5,425, with 600 bodies recovered on Friday alone, but still more bodies are believed to be lying under the debris left behind by the surging waves at Velankanni and Nagore.

It is feared, the figure may cross the 6,000 mark. Clearing the debris had become a big problem due to shortage of earth-levelling and moving equipment.

Large tracts of land are still filled with sand swept in from the beaches. The army had to pitch in to help the civil administration in several places and was busy in laying roads and building temporary bridges to move relief materials to far-flung villages along the sea shore.

With the tsunami damaging the water distribution system in many places, the army had to set it right. In some places, particularly in Nagapattinam town, distribution of drinking water began today. However, it may take a couple of days more for complete restoration of drinking water supply, officials said.

In relief centres, located mostly in schools, marriage halls and big temples, inmates complained of shortage of drinking water and refused to drink the water supplied by the local authorities, fearing that it might be contaminated and might cause waterborne diseases, triggering an epidemic.

Seventy-seven villages have been identified as the worst-hit and eleven committees, each in charge of seven villages, have been constituted to monitor relief work. A state minister would head each committee and a senior IAS official would help in coordinating relief work in the villages.

Though relief had started pouring in from Monday, there was no coordination among officials in dispatching the materials to areas, which required them urgently.

As a result, the affected people themselves took control of the situation, waited on the main roads and diverted the lorries taking relief materials to their villages.

In the process, villages, which had already received relief, were getting more materials, depriving those which required them urgently.

Saris and children's garments were initially much sought after, as the fisherfolk had lost their belongings in the surging waters on the fateful day. But with heaps of clothes being sent to the district by voluntary agencies, supply outstripped the demand, leading to many clothes lying unclaimed in many parts of the districts.

The much publicised cash assistance announced by the Tamil Nadu government had not been received by the victims till Friday.

Officials said they had received orders from the government on this only on Friday and would take steps to distribute the assistance from Saturday.

Apprehending another tsunami strike, inmates of the relief camps were refusing to return to their homes. Government was making efforts to lay roads and clear debris to enable the inmates to return to their place of stay.

But most of the huts had been damaged and until the government provided them an alternative place of residence, they would prefer to be in the camps, Rajeswari, an inmate of a relief camp at D B G marriage hall said.

Agriculture, fishing and tourism, which together constitute the backbone of the district's economy, have all been badly affected by the tsunami.

With the beach sand entering agricultural land in many places, it will be impossible to start farming activities in the near future. It would take a couple of years, said Rajagopalan, an advocate who is also a farmer.

Fresh rains for another two seasons would clear the sand. However, R Marimuthu, tahsildar of Vedaranyam taluk, painted a gloomy picture, saying it might take up to 15 years to make the land arable again.

The district's farmers suffered due to lack of adequate water for the last three years, and could resume cultivation only this year. However, some of their crops were lost in the torrential rains that lashed the district in November. Now, the tsunamis have hit land located within a 5km radius from the sea shore.

Fishermen, accounting for more than 25% of the district's 14,87,055 population, as per 2001 census, are the worst affected. Their fishing trawlers, over 100,000 country boats and fishing nets were washed away by the waves.

It might have also killed several varieties of fish in the sea, making the condition of fishermen miserable. Most went into the sea for prawns, which fetched attractive prices in the international market.

Nagapattinam district exported prawn worth Rs 100 crore every year, a fishing department official said adding it would take another six months for this sector to return to normal.

It is feared that the tourism sector will be badly affected at least for another year as the infrastructure developed around the Our Lady of Health shrine at Velankanni and at Nagore Dargah, both of which receive 100,000 tourists every year, have either been destroyed or damaged.

Both Velankanni and Nagore reported heavy casualties in the tsunami attack, accounting for nearly 2,000 deaths.

Poompuhar, a district tourist centre and a bustling port during the Chola rule (4th century BC), also reported extensive damage. It may take some more time for the government to repair the damage.

The district administration is also left with the problem of large number of orphaned children. Till Saturday, 143 children had been identified as orphans and the number may go up as the officials started the survey only on Friday.

Officials hope to involve voluntary organisations like Ramakrishna Mutt and the Missionaries of Charity in adopting these children.

The state and central governments' announcement of compensation of Rs 100,000 each to the families of the victims had led to a few people trying to make bogus claims on behalf of victims or orphaned children.

For example, at one of the relief camps, a stranger claimed to be the uncle of a 7-year-old girl, but was exposed, officials said.

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