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Armed forces lead relief efforts

By Amberish K Diwanji in New Delhi
December 28, 2004 00:05 IST
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The Indian armed forces, led by the Indian Navy, have swung into action on a 'war footing' to help the civilian authorities cope with what is Independent India's biggest disaster from the sea, the tsunamis that struck Indian shores on December 26, and where the death toll from India is inching towards the 10,000 mark.

The navy is clearly in charge and leading the search, rescue, relief and rehabilitation efforts – ably assisted by the Indian Air Force and the army. "Twenty-two of the Indian Navy's ships have been deployed, many of them carrying helicopters. Thirteen of these ships are engaged in rescue operations off Indian territories while the remaining have been dispatched to Sri Lanka and the Maldives," an official said.

According to sources, Chief of Naval Staff Admiral Arun Prakash is personally supervising the operations from the War Room located in South Block, assisted by the second-in-commands of the IAF and the army.

Chief of Air Staff Air Chief Marshal S Krishnaswamy is accompanying Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee who is touring the worst-affected areas and was in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands on Monday, while Chief of Army Staff General N C Vij is currently on a visit to China. Officials said he is likely to cut short his visit and return by Tuesday.

While the navy has deployed ships from all its three commands – Eastern, Southern, and Western – most of its remaining ships have been placed on standby. "These standby ships are storing various requirement such as water, food, clothes and blankets, medicines, cables (to restore electricity), and are ready to move out on notice," said the sources. At present, the ships are in Kochi, Visakapatnam, Chennai, and Mumbai.

Five navy ships along with helicopters are involved in relief operations along the east coast of India, specifically off Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh, besides the southern part of Kerala, which was also hit by the tsunamis.

The navy is actively involved in providing relief to the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, the worst affected areas of India. Four ships, along with a Landing Ship Tank-Large, which is carrying a helicopter besides 20 tonnes of relief material, have moved to the Car Nicobar Island. Two ships and a tanker are on a shuttle service from Visakapatnam to Port Blair, the capital and chief port of the A&N Islands.

Two ships with medical and diving teams on board have reached Male, capital of the Maldives. Another tanker with 50 tonnes of food and 1000 tonnes of potable water is due to reach soon. The ships are also carrying portable communication equipment since most of the communication network and lines have been badly damaged.

Four Indian Navy ships have reached Sri Lanka with relief material, two berthing at Trincomalee and two at Galle. An Indian Navy Dornier aircraft has been shuttling between Kochi and Colombo, carrying relief material.

The IAF has deployed its transport aircraft for lifting relief material to affected areas. At present, nine AN-32, three IL-76 and two Avro aircraft and three MI-8 helicopters are being used. Six helicopters are on standby to airlift relief material to Sri Lanka.

The IAF has set up five nodal points – Chennai, Bhuj, Chandigarh, Ahmedabad and Delhi to ferry supplies.

The army has already provided around 30 tonnes of rations from its stores for the affected people while troops are engaged in relief operations. In the various coastal villages where roads and homes have been severely damaged, troops are clearing debris and aiding the civilian authorities in rehabilitation efforts.

A column (over 100 personnel) has been dispatched to help in relief efforts at Kalpakkam, Tamil Nadu, where one of India's nuclear reactors is located. The sources insisted that the nuclear reactor itself had suffered no damage.

"We are carrying out our operations literally on a war footing and sparing no effort to provide as much relief as soon as possible," said the official adding that the situation is almost akin to the armed forces being at war.

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Amberish K Diwanji in New Delhi