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'Just made sure nobody saw my tears'

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Last updated on: December 29, 2004 21:11 IST

Colachal is a small town 22 km west of Negercoil in coastal Tamil Nadu. It was one of the worst hit by Sunday's tsunamis. Over 400 people died. The government hospital in the town was not equipped to handle a calamity of such gigantic proportions. But the medical staff toiled day and night to treat the injured, identify the dead and rush help to neighbouring villages.

The hospital's Chief Medical Officer Dr A Thanammai slept only a couple of hours  each night. On Wednesday, she took some time off to tell about her experience:

I was in the hospital Sunday morning. At 10:45 am I noticed people running on the road. I thought there must have been a group clash. Street fights are common here.

Next I know, they were bringing in bodies -- men, women and children. The bodies came in at a frightening speed. A lot of the dead were children and aged men and women.

Also see: Tsunami deaths mount to 65,000 | Complete Coverage

There were people with serious injuries too. We managed to save 26 of them. They had been rescued from the rising waters. We gave them first-aid and sent them to the Kanyakumari Medical College Hospital.

All my doctors were off duty, but they rushed to the hospital when they heard the news. All we knew then was that huge waves had struck our coast. That these were tsunamis triggered by an earthquake off the coast of Indonesia, we came to know only later.

My daughter is a doctor too. She assisted me that day. It was one of the toughest days of my professional life.

Also see: 'Every hour, every minute is important'

First, the power went on a blink. Next, the phone lines went dead. We were using our mobile phones. Then the batteries ran out.

By that time, the district authorities had heard the started coming in.
Private hospitals in the area sent their ambulances to help. First, to bring the bodies here and then to take them to the graveyard.
There were bodies all over. There was no place to walk.

Pictures: Anguish, despair, hope

On Sunday, we identified 262 bodies, tagged them and sent them for burial. In the evening, I vacated the main ward. Soon, we ran out of space there too.
I was crying. Just made sure nobody saw my tears. Some of them were my patients. Their relatives were known to me. They were crying for help. This morning again, I could not hold back my tears.

Monday afternoon, the volunteers came. That took some pressure off us.

Also see: A day in the life of a relief coordinator

The body count rose to 405 on Tuesday. Today, so far five bodies have come in.

My three doctors, five nurses, two pharmacists, two ward workers and two sanitary workers worked tirelessly.

Last night, doctors came from Sankarankovil. I made arrangements in one of the wards for them to stay.

Some doctors came from Tenkasi at 1130 pm. They went to stay at Agashtiyapuram and are now working in nearby villages.

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Doctors from Ambasamudram were put up in a school nearby. They are also working in villages now.

Last four days I have been going to bed at 1 am and I am back at the hospital at 4 am. Today there are lots of doctors here. I am happy.


Ganesh Nadar in Kanyakumari