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'We loved the sea. Now we hate it'

By George Iype in Nagapattinam
December 27, 2004 13:22 IST
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The walls of water that hit the coastal district of Nagapattinam in Tamil Nadu have brought in devastating scenes of death and destruction.

Nagapattinam used to be a bustling town till the waves crashed home on Sunday. It now accounts for the most number of deaths in India due to the tsunamis.

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The waves have calmed, but they are bringing in bodies of children, women, fishermen and tourists.

Bodies are also being brought out of the debris of the destroyed houses and shops. Bodies of some children who were playing cricket when the waves rushed in were extricated from fallen houses and trees.

The morgue at the Nagapattinam government hospital is overflowing with bodies. Wailing relatives are running around looking for their loved ones.

"We have lost count of the bodies. This is for the first time that Nagapattinam has seen so many deaths," says K Srimurugappan, a hospital attendant.

Just outside the small town, across the district, fishermen have poignant tales to tell.

"We loved the sea. We lived by the sea. Now we hate seeing this sea," says K Mahalingam, who lost his eight boats, scores of fishermen and four of his relatives.

Mahalingam is lucky to survive. He was supposed to fish, but a viral fever prevented him.

But around 20 fishermen he employed went in, as usual. "They have not returned. I do not know whether they will ever return now," cries Mahalingam.

"I have lost eight boats. I have lost everything. The sea has destroyed our lives forever," Mahalingam says.

Across Nagapattinam, similar tales of disaster are pouring in. Most of those who have lost their loved ones are fishermen.

According to the district administration, which is continuing with the rescue operations, the number of casualties among fishermen is the highest in Nagapattinam. "Lots of fishing hamlets have been washed away as the seawater entered nearly two kilometres into the land," says P K Elangovan, an official coordinating rescue and relief operations.

A large number of people have been accommodated in government offices, schools and kalyana mandapams (marriage halls) belonging to various religious shrines.

"The biggest effort now is to identify the bodies. It is going to be a huge task," a doctor at the hospital said.

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George Iype in Nagapattinam
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