The devastating tidal waves that lashed several coastal districts of Tamil Nadu on Sunday have left at least 1,567 people dead, Chief Minister Jayalalithaa said in Chennai.
Nagapattinam recorded the maximum number of 788 deaths, followed by Cuddalore (290), Kanyakumari (261) and Chennai (128), she told reporters at Meenambakkam airport on Sunday night after returning from an aerial survey of some of the affected districts.
She said the casualty figure might go up. Rescue and relief work are in progress. She announced ex-gratia payment of Rs 100,000 to the families of each of the victims.
Pointing out that she had asked the Centre for 'liberal financial assistance' to meet the contingency, the chief minister said she would visit Nagapattinam district on Monday.
"It seems everything had happened in a matter of 20 minutes. It is an extraordinary national calamity," Jayalalithaa said.
During her aerial survey, she said she had seen in several places like Mamallapuram, tidal waves sweeping across and sea water gushing onto the roads.
The worst hit districts were Nagapattinam and Cuddalore where even pucca houses had collapsed.
"It was a terrible sight at Nagapattinam. I have no words to express the extent of the damage," she said adding she had asked the Nagapattinam collector to provide all help to those who were rendered homeless.
Special team of doctors would be rushed to Nagapattinam district. Doctors had been instructed to take preventive measures against outbreak of epidemics.
Giving the break-up of the casualties, Jayalalithaa said Kancheepuram district had reported 59 deaths, followed by Villupuram 23, Tiruvallur 13 and others accounting for the balance.
Governor Surjit Singh Barnala conveyed his deep shock and grief at the calamity.
Meanwhile, Union Ministers, Dayanidhi Maran and Mani Shankar Aiyer, visited some of the affected areas.
Chennai civic authorities had distributed nearly 200,000 food packets to the affected people, who have been accommodated in several state-run schools.
At least 15 people lost their lives in Kalpakkam near Chengalpattu. The Madras Atomic Power Station at Kalpakkam is safe. "There is no adverse effect on the reactors," sources said.
In the neighbouring Union territory of Pondicherry, at least 102 deaths were reported.
Meanwhile, sources in the Chennai Port Trust said ropes securing two ships had snapped and the ships were being tossed about in the rough sea. Airport sources said a flight to Port Blair was cancelled.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had asked Union ministers Mani Shankar Aiyar and Dayanidhi Maran to visit the affected areas and assist in the rescue and relief work, a PMO spokesman said.
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The tidal waves swept away most of the dwellings near the sea. Water even entered the roads in Chennai throwing vehicles aside.
Most of the casualties in Chennai were in northern parts like Tiruvottiyur, Ennore and Royapuram areas. The impact was felt even in southern parts of the city like Besant Nagar, police said.
Relief and rescue operations were in full swing to restore normalcy in the city.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh spoke to Chief Minister Jayalalithaa and expressed grief and shock over the calamity. The chief minister informed the prime minister that the entire administration besides army, navy and coast guard had been pressed into service to arrange relief and rescue operations. The loss of lives is high and the actual number of deaths is being ascertained.
Relief camps had been organised and food packets were being distributed to all those rendered homeless. Ministers have been sent to all the affected areas.
Reports from Cuddalore district said huge waves swept away houses and destroyed boats in the morning. The affected villages were Sothikuppam, Sonankuppam, Devanampattinam and Modasalodai. District Collector Gagandeep Singh said helicopters had been pressed into service to locate survivors, and dead bodies.