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'Kids: tragic heroes of the disaster'

By George Iype in Nagapattinam
December 30, 2004 17:07 IST
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In the ruined homes, collapsed shops and waterlogged paddy fields and on the destroyed beaches of the Nagapattinam coastal belt of Tamil Nadu, scores of survivors are desperately searching.

They are looking for children.

Days after the waves struck, anguish, desperation and uncertainty have set in the ruined villages. Pain is writ large on the faces of many because most of the families have lost their children.

The stench of death emanating from the mass burial sites in Nagapattinam and Velankanni has given way to stark realities.

"I have lost three sons," moans fisherman Senthil Kumaran. Two of them had gone out for fishing as usual. The youngest son, Manish, an eight standard student, was playing in the fields with his friends when the waves invaded.

Kumaran, who lost his wife years back, is grief-stricken. "What will I do now? Whom should I live for?" He is inconsolable.

The 48-year old fisherman is still searching for his sons. He hopes to find them somewhere. "My children lived fighting with the sea. They cannot be killed by these waters," Kumaran says as he continues his search.

Like him, several parents are looking for their sons and daughters.

Children were the worst affected when the monstrous tidal waves crashed into their homes.

C K Gariyali, municipal secretary to the Tamil Nadu government overseeing relief operations, says the biggest tragedy of this disaster is that hundreds of young lives have been wiped out.

Government estimates, collected from across relief camps, morgues and burial grounds, says nearly 40 per cent of all those who died under the waves across the Tamil Nadu coastal villages are children.

In Nagapattam alone, out of the officially declared 4,332 deaths, 1,630 are children.

In the nearby Christian pilgrim center of Velankanni, some 1,500 dead bodies were recovered and buried; nearly 400 of them were children.

It is not just the death. A large number of children have also been orphaned in the tragedy.

Children, who lost their parents and homes are now sheltered in various relief camps across the coastal belt.

Tiruvarur District Collect P Ekambaram was deeply moved by the plight of the large number of orphaned children in various relief camps.

"I have decided to adopt this child," the collector said looking at a child as he went around a relief shelter.

The seven-year old boy is still shocked at what has happened. He does not remember where exactly his home was.

But rescue operators picked him up from a paddy field near the Valankanni shrine.

"These children are the tragic heroes of the tsunami disaster. I will adopt him," sad Ekambaram, who ordered for the enumeration of all orphaned children across the district.

The collector said the aim now was to list the orphans in various shelters and give them over to various adoption agencies and voluntary groups.

"We are giving food and milk to the children. We will not allow their lives to end in a bigger tragedy," Ekambaram said.

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George Iype in Nagapattinam
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