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J Radhakrishnan
District Collector
Nagapattinam, Tamil Nadu

On December 26, J Radhakrishnan's team found 2,600 bodies in a four-kilometre stretch. The Tamil Nadu government had formed a special team for this stretch and Radhakrishnan was its leader.

In Nagapattinam there is a village called Akkaraipettai. In and around this village are seven villages that were the worst affected in the tsunami destruction. The scale of destruction was enormous.

Radhakrishnan spent all his waking hours in the midst of the destruction. Issuing orders on his cell phone and giving instructions to his subordinates. "On the first day we could not approach the village. There was debris piled up everywhere, as if the destruction wasn't enough a gas cylinder exploded, burning down a few houses,' he says.

With the help of the army, his team worked round the clock and buried the 2,600 bodies.

On the day I met him, he was supervising the cleaning up. Then the collector of neighbouring Tanjore, he had been given the responsibility of relief and rehabilitation work in Nagapattinam. We walked the entire stretch of the road and proceeded to the seashore. He then walked the entire 4 kms stretch back, giving a word of encouragement to the soldiers repairing motors on the boats, and smiling at the BBC crew doing a live broadcast.

Just a few months ago, Radhakrishnan had tackled the tragic death of children in a school fire in Kumbakonam. At that time he had rushed to the site and on finding a traffic jam, he ran the last one kilometre to the school.

From there he shifted the dead and injured to the hospital with the help of the police and fire brigade. Radhakrishnan spent the next four days and nights at the hospital till all the bodies were identified and buried. Till every critically injured child was out of danger.

This time, dealing with the tsunami tragedy he looks tired, his nose is sunburnt, but not his spirit.

Text and photograph: A Ganesh Nadar

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