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'My sons might be there in burial ground'

By George Iype in Nagapattinam
Last updated on: December 28, 2004 13:23 IST
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Nagapattinam, a unique pilgrim centre for Hindus, Christians and Muslims is witnessing a tragic scene: mass burial of hundreds of people who died when the killer tsunami hit the port town and the adjoining coastal villages.

A day after the disaster, district authorities embarked on a massive effort throughout Monday to identify the dead bodies that were brought to the government general hospital in Nagapattinam. But it has been a futile effort, as many of the bodies could not be recognised.

So by Monday evening, district authorities headed by collector M Veera Shanmugha Moni made up their mind for mass burial. "We sent 900 bodies for mass burial on Monday. We will conduct more burials today (Tuesday)," Moni told

The municipal graveyard at Velipalayam near Nagapattinam is the main mass burial spot. Huge pits are being dug, and around 100 bodies, that are brought in municipal lorries dumped into the pits. They are then closed as wailing relatives pray for the souls of their dear and near ones.

"I do not know whether my two sons are there in the burial ground. They may be there. So I am here to pray for them," said Chellamma, a fisherwoman who lost her sons in the tragedy.

Collector Moni said various rescue teams in different locations across the district are still searching for bodies.

Syed Abdullah, a Muslim priest who has been leading a team of local rescue personnel says the hundreds of bodies are still under the sand in the coastal areas.

"We managed to extricate around 80 bodies. We hope to find more bodies today," he said. Abdullah and his friends have been taking the bodies in trucks and jeeps to the government hospital.

"The district authorities asked our permission for the mass burial. We agreed. In this kind of a tragedy, there is no religion. Let the dead be buried together. They died together in the sea. Let their souls get peace together," the Muslim priest said.

The death toll in the tsunami tragedy in Nagapattinam, the worst hit coastal district in Tamil Nadu, has not yet been assessed. Some say it is 1,500, others say it is 2,000.

But the local people at Nagore, Velankanni and Nagapattinam say the toll would be more than 3,000.

"The exact number of people who died would never be known. No one knows how many people have been washed away in the tide," an officer said.

In between, Nagapattinam and the adjoining villages are often besieged by rumours. Throughout Monday, there
were rumours that the tsunami waves have hit the coastal areas once again.

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George Iype in Nagapattinam