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The Rediff Interview/Nagapattinam Collector M Veera Shanmugha Moni

'We are getting more bodies everyday'

January 03, 2005

He has barely slept in the last week. Ever since the killer tsunami hit the Nagapattinam coastal areas, District Collector M Veera Shanmugha Moni has been on the move. As the administrator of the worst affected district in the country, Moni has the most difficult job at hand: managing the aftermath of a huge tragedy.

Even a week after the disaster, its tragic aftereffects are continuing. On Sunday, rescue and relief personnel pulled out nearly 100 decomposed dead bodies from across Nagapattinam coast. The official tsunami death toll in Nagapattinam stands at 6,200.

The tsunami has hit more than 80 percent of the 1.4 million population of Nagapattinam that has a 200-kilometer long coastal area.

In an interview with Deputy Managing Editor George Iype, Moni describes how he is trying to restore normalcy in the most ravaged Nagapattinam coastal areas.

How extensive is the tsunami damage in Nagapattinam?

Nagapattinam bore the biggest brunt of the waves. The sea water had entered most of the fishermen's villages across the district. The tragedy is still continuing in our district because we are getting more bodies everyday. We are continuing to remove debris from many coastal villages like Akkaraipettai, Kallar, Keechankuppam, Pudupattinam, Tharangampadi, Pazhayar, Nagore, Velankanni and Naluvedapathi. The army, police, and voluntary and sanitary workers are searching for bodies under the debris. We are still assessing the economic damage. Our attention now is to rehabilitate and resettle the thousands of villagers who have lost their homes, dear and near ones.

Techies take up relief work in Nagapattinam

How are the relief operations going on?

The relief operations are in full swing. We have embarked on the biggest ever relief operation here. Some 90,000 people have been accommodated in the 98 relief camps we have opened across the 200-kilometre coastal belt. Most of these relief camps are in schools. Food, medicines and clothes have been provided to the survivors. We are going to provide two sets of uniforms and textbooks to school students up to standard XII in the coastal villages.

What happens now to the survivors?

We will resettle them. Many have lost their homes. Many of them depended on fishing; they have lost their nets, boats and everything. So we are carrying out detailed surveys to decide how we are going to rehabilitate and resettle the villagers. The sand has entered into the agricultural land of thousands of farmers. They have lost their crops. Bringing back the villages to normalcy is not going to be easy. It is a huge task, but we are on it.

Nagapattinam faces uphill task

What kind of outside help are you getting to carry out the relief operations?

We have set up 11 committees that are headed by ministers and chairmen of several boards along with 10 senior IAS officers. These committees have taken charge of relief operations in all the villages affected by the tsunami. We have taken urgent steps to route the relief materials received from several parts of the state through the district administration. We want all the relief materials be routed through the administration to ensure transparency and efficiency.

There have been reports of epidemics in the district.

No cases of epidemics have been reported so far. We have deployed hundreds of medical personnel across the district to ensure proper medical care for the survivors. Sanitary workers had been deployed to dispose of garbage and also old clothes, which were received as relief material but found discarded in several places in the district.

What is the biggest problem now you face?

Everything has been the biggest problem ever since the tragedy hit us. We are trying to cope with it and manage it effectively.


The Rediff Interviews

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