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'I saw the sea eat my wife, kids'

By George Iype in Nagapattinam
December 27, 2004 16:27 IST
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"I saw waves coming in like mountains. I saw the sea eat my wife, children and house," K Panneerselvam, a fisherman recuperating in a government general hospital in Nagapattinam, is unconsolable.

Also see: 'We loved the sea, now we hate it' | Images: Death by the sea | Complete Coverage

Till last morning, everything was going well in his life. Then mighty waves from the same sea that fed him and his family for 20 years destroyed everything.

"If I do not see my wife and children in one of the relief camps, I will jump into the sea kill myself. Why should I live off this sea, when it has taken away my family," he says.

Also see: Tsunami toll crosses 15,000 in Asia | PM seeks contributions for flood relief

Panneerselvam was repairing his fishing net, preparing to venture into the sea off the Nagapattinam coast on Sunday morning. "The sea was calm and quiet," he recalls.

He was waiting for his mates to join him in their boats. And then he heard a roar. "There was no rain...I immediately knew something was wrong," he says.

When he looked into the sea, the sight was frightening. "I have been fishing here for 20 years, but I have never seen such huge waves. They hit me before I could turn around and scream out a warning to my children and wife," says Panneerselvam choking on his tears.

Panneerselvam clung to the tree he was sitting under. A few second later, the tree came crashing down. "I thought I was dead; but I held on to the tree," he recalls.

When he tried to get up, a second wave hit him. As he fell down, he saw his small, tiled house being washed away. Along with the house went his wife Kamalam, a daughter and two sons.

Panneerselvam is not alone. Hundreds of fisherfolks are frantically searching for their near and dear ones in hospitals and relief camps. For some, the search ends in painful identification of bodies.

The injured, hundreds of them, are being looked after at relief camps. Panneerselvam is hoping against hope that he will find his wife and kids at one of these camps.

The district administration estimates that several hundred houses have been destroyed along the Nagapattinam-Cuddalore coastline.

The worst affected villages and towns are -- Nagapattinam, Tranquebar, Vedaranyam, Vailankanni, Chinnagudi, Vanageri, Chandrabadi, Mannilkapang, Poompuhar, Pudukuppam, Neithavasal, Karaikal, Tiruvankadu and Pazhayar.

Nagapattinam District Collector Veera Shanmuga Moni told "We have evacuated more than 25,000 people to safer places. In many villages, we had to use boats to evacuate people," Moni said.

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George Iype in Nagapattinam