Friday, November 23, 2007

In trail of 2004 Tsunami near Chennai

In trail of 2004 Tsunami near Chennai
Syed Ali Mujtaba

{Tsunami pictures taken in Thailand.They were sent to me by a tennis buddy.Aren't they truly spectacular?}

I was awe struck by the kind of destruction left behind by the December 26, 2004 Tsunami on the Coramandal coast as I drove some distance on the East Coast road shortly after that event. Here are some of impressions of that catastrophe that linger on.

A random count tells that there are about 10 prominent beach resorts that dot the East Coast Road from Chennai to Mahabaliupram. Hopping in and out, I could say that each of them was hit by the Tsunami the most badly affected being the Tamil Nadu Tourism Development Corporations resort. The water there had gone inside the cottages and some of its places were having knee-deep water.

The port town Mahabaliupram looked battered and lonely. Here the killer wall of wave had created havoc. A shopkeeper, who survived the tragedy and was putting his trade back, described with unutterable shock what he saw on the morning of the Black Sunday.

A huge wall of seawater suddenly reared up, as tall as the light-posts around the he shore- temple arena, where the annual dance festival is held, and then dashed down to receded, leaving a trail of destruction in its wake.

The shops lining the lane to the beach of Mahabalipuram were all gone. This included the stalls set up by the Tourism Department. The long wall of stone raised on the north east of the shore-temples, acted a buffer for the seventh century monument. Thanks to it, the beautiful, temple remained intact, serene and misty as ever. The water flooded the nearby "five rathams," the other tourist spot in the port city.

Moving beyond Mahabalipuram, is Kalpakkam where Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research (ICGAR) is located. Opposite to it is the Kalpakkam atomic nuclear power plant. In wake of tsunami striking, the Kalpakkam, the atomic power plant was briefly shut down. Local say water dashed down the wall of the compound of the ICGAR and damaged the hospital located there. Costly equipment like, the ultra sonic scanners and dentist chairs were all submerged in water.

Kalpakkam accounted for the majority of the deaths. The toll here was put at 108, including 48 women and 31 children, most of them in Kalpakkam township.

Not far from the Kalpakkam township is, ‘Sadras’, a shore village that has a Dutch Fort. The fort locally called as 'Pudupattinam' stands in the full view, high above the sand dunes, remained intact undeterred by the killer Tsunami.

Recalling the event, the local people of Sadras, said they first saw water too close to their habitats. They grabbed their belongings and started for the Fort. A hundred or more of them had collected inside the fort, which was overflowing with water. No rescue reached them and they had to experience an entire night of hardship.

A total of 30 fishermen colonies on a 40 kms stretch of Kalpakkam- Sadras were devastated, five of them totally disappeared. It was learnt that some 150 fishermen, who ventured out to sea during night before the Sunday night were missing.

Eyewitness said that many people living near the shore ran for the road leading to a temple called Thirukazhukunram, that’s located on a hilly area close by. They got into the lorries parked usually in the villages for the night in between shifts carrying material for construction at Kalpakkam and drove to the hilltop to take refuge.

The government stepped in for evacuating people only late on Monday afternoon. Many had to leave behind their cattle and poultry, in search of safety, the local said.

Even though the rescue and relief operation was in full on full swing, barely few hours after that it what seems obvious was it may take a long time for every thing to return to normalcy.

Similar scene and stories were waiting ahead of me all along the Cormandal coast, but I preferred to return to Chennai before the sunset.

Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at

No comments: