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'Coast Guard was the first to react'

By Sheela Bhatt in New Delhi
Last updated on: December 27, 2004 16:45 IST
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Indian Coast Guard Deputy Director General Dr P Paleri is not as surprised as he is saddened by the destruction caused by tsunamis that struck the coast of India on Sunday morning because he had anticipated such an event.

On page 177 of his book 'Role of the Coast Guard in Maritime Security of India', he has written that India will have to look out for tsunamis. The book was published this year.

"While evaluating India's security threats in coastal areas, I came across some material that described how a tsunami had devastated Madras, now Chennai, in 1883. The result then was exactly like that of Sunday's," Dr Paleri told in Delhi.

The Indian Coast Guard was the first organization to react when tsunamis began to hit the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. At 6.30am, Indian Coast Guard Regional Command in Andaman got news of the tsunamis, he told

Andaman's residents were shocked and in trauma. The waves had struck like electric shocks - quick and powerfully - wrecking havoc because of the surprise element.

Dr Paleri said that the effect was such that there were hardly any people alive 'to be air-lifted' on certain islands.

Without panicking, ICG started relief operations in Chennai, Port Blair and Mumbai before noon on Sunday.

For the most part of the day, ICG staffers were helping ferry dead bodies and supply food packets to the marooned areas.

"Our officers are trained to not make a disaster out of disaster management. We are composed and perform our duties in association with the Indian Air Force," he said.

For the first few hours, the local administration had lost communication with many of the islands. The IAF's air strips and other property were badly hit.

To resume communication, two ships were sent out to sea. They managed to connect the far flung areas of Andaman and Nicobar Islands to the capital Port Blair with the help of a high frequency (HF) communication system. Once communication was established, it became easy to get details of the damage caused by the tsunamis and carry out rescue operations.

"It's a pretty bad scene in Andaman and Nicobar Islands because one more earthquake hit the islands on Sunday evening," Dr Paleri said.

Around 17 helicopters were pressed into service in Chennai (capital of Tamil Nadu) and the Andaman Islands.

ICG's officers continue to work heroically to rescue people in marooned islands of the Indian Ocean archipelago.

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Sheela Bhatt in New Delhi