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Monday, Dec 27, 2004

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Tidal waves leave behind a tale of death & destruction in TN

R. Balaji
N. Ramakrishnan

`BACK ROW' BOYS: Fishermen trying to retrieve a boat washed away by a tidal wave in Besant Nagar, Chennai on Sunday morning. — Bijoy Ghosh

Chennai , Dec. 26

TIDAL waves that lashed the east coast of the country this morning left a trail of death and destruction, with Tamil Nadu bearing the brunt of the damage.

Hundreds of people were killed and fishing hamlets along the coast washed away as the tsunamis (sea waves) caught people unaware.

Some estimates put the death toll at well over a 1,000, with southern parts of the State like Cuddalore and Nagapattinam reporting heavy loss of life.

In Chennai, where initial estimates put the number of dead at around 125 and several missing, the hundreds who thronged the Marina beach on a bright Sunday for a walk, a game of cricket or just for fun were in for a nightmare as the waves lashed at them with a fury that most residents do not remember seeing in their lifetime.

Residents in different parts of the city also felt tremors.

ATLEAST THIS: People salvaging whatever is left of their belongings in a fishing village in Chennai. — Bijoy Ghosh

"They were playing on the sand. I cannot find them now," screamed a man in anguish over his mobile phone.

He echoed the helplessness of hundreds of others who had come to the beach on the morning after Christmas day.

A. Kumaresan, a fisherman living in Foreshore Estate, sat forlorn on his catamaran that had been washed on to the road. "I have lost everything," he cried bitterly.

Others in the fishing colony were running about, either looking for their family or trying to salvage whatever they could.

Some others were seen dragging bodies of loved ones buried in the heavy silt left behind by the rampaging waves.

But, amid this misery, there were thousands of Chennai residents who had somehow managed to reach the beach, despite the police erecting barricades on all roads leading to the Marina, just to gawk at the result of nature's fury and every time they saw a powerful wave coming, they would flee for cover.

For them, tidal waves in Chennai were a rare sight, something they wanted to capture for posterity - their sleek mobile phone handsets with cameras and digital cameras came in handy as they posed for pictures with the rough sea in the background!

The Kamarajar Salai (or Beach Road) - which is lined on one side by stately buildings like that of the Madras University - had a layer of debris and dirt deposited by the receding waves.

The powerful waves dragged a number of cars - hatchbacks and sedans - that were parked along the Beach Road and dumped them on railings or on the loop road on the beach, along with hand carts used by vendors to hawk their wares, fishing boats and nets, outboard motors that are fitted on to catamarans and the like.

Inconsolable relatives and anxious friends searched for their loved ones, while fishermen from nearby tenements were on the beach lending a helping hand, even as a Coast Guard helicopter hovered over the choppy seas with a volunteer hanging from a harness braving the rough seas to fish out bodies of victims washed away by the waves.

All through, it was the fishermen who pitched in courageously to help in the rescue operations, repeatedly warning the people to be careful and not venture out too far just because the sea then was calm.

Some foreign tourists wore a bewildered look and were whisked away in a police vehicle while a middle-aged tourist from West Bengal, speaking in halting English, mumbled that he had come with his family and friends to the famed Marina beach for the first time.

"And, look what has happened," was all that he would say. Children who were enjoying their school holidays by playing a game of cricket on the beach - something that the Marina beach is known for, especially on week-ends - were found missing.

As the body count kept increasing, the hard-pressed volunteers and police tried their best to keep the surging crowd away.

To no avail. In the middle of it all, there was a couple performing a "puja" on the Beach Road with lit camphor - praying to god to spare them of more misery.

All the roads in Chennai were packed with vehicles as if it were a normal working day and all roads seem to be leading to the Marina. In fishing villages and residential areas along the coast, there was destruction and residents were asked by the police to move out of their homes and stay with relatives for "just tonight."

More Stories on : Natural Calamities | Tamil Nadu

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