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'Every hour, every minute is important'

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December 29, 2004 17:26 IST

When we met C K Gariyali, municipal administration and water supply secretary to the Tamil Nadu government, she had not slept for two days. It was Tuesday, and she was in Cuddalore overseeing the government's relief operations in the tsunami hit areas.

In this first-person account, Gariyali describes her experience of managing a relief operation that has few parallel's in the country's history:

"This is the biggest disaster I have ever seen. And so, every hour, every minute is important. Time is the most important factor in tackling a tragedy and also in carrying out rescue and relief operations.

The whole of Monday, we spent were trying to search for bodies. It is not just the government machinery that has been activated, lots of voluntary groups, local people, national and international aid agencies have come to the Tamil Nadu coast to help us provide solace and help to the people hit by the tragedy.

Also see: Images of anguish, despair, hope

We have cremated all the bodies that we managed to recover. Today, we are clearing the debris left by the waves across the coastline. The army is assisting us in this operation. We are uncovering more bodies as we go around cleaning up villages.

We have launched the largest-ever relief operation across Tamil Nadu. We have opened a large number of relief camps across the state, especially the worst-hit districts of Cuddalore and Nagapattinam.

Also see: Tsunami deaths mount to 60,000

Each affected family is being given a dhoti, a saree, two bed sheets, 60 kgs of rice, three litres of kerosene and Rs 1,000 in cash to buy condiments, oil, pulses, etc; Rs. 1,000 to purchase utensils and Rs 2,000 for putting up a hut. The package for each family roughly works out to around Rs 5000.

Help is pouring in from across the country. The UNICEF has agreed to provide relief in kind to the victims here. UNICEF will give 10,000 blankets, 10,000 sets of utensils, and 10 Syntex water tanks. The water tanks will be placed in affected villages to store treated water.

Many victims are still in a state of shock. They are yet to come to terms with the loss of their near and dear ones and their homes. I have thus urged the health secretary to depute psychiatrists to counsel victims and also supply anti-depressants.

Also see: Who will distribute all the aid pouring in?

Most of the affected families have lost their ration cards. We are making urgent arrangements to issue duplicate cards to them.

As told to George Iype