Colachel, Kanyakumari district, Tamil Nadu -- A cold hand brushed my side. As I turned around startled, I saw a young man carrying a child's body -- stiff and bloated. The boy's eyes looked as they would pop out.
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"Stop dripping water on me from a corpse, take him away," a hospital employee shouted. He then handed over a token to the young man. "Dead body number 434," a volunteer announced loudly.
There were volunteers everywhere. They wore masks and gloves. Two nurses gave them anti-tetanus shots.
Ambulances were racing into the hospital almost every five minutes. They brought only bodies.
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In one part of this big room of a local hospital, there were bodies lined up for identification. The waiting relatives heaved a sigh of relief when they did not find the people they were looking for among the bodies just brought in.
A cry of despair rent the air. It was a woman's voice. She had identified a body.
Just across the road from the hospital, St. Mary's Higher Secondary School had been converted into a relief camp.
There was a long queue. Volunteers were taking down names and addresses and handing out tokens. The list would be given to the revenue department. Each family entitlement -- 5 kg rice and Rs 2000 in cash.
Chief Parish Priest Father Stanley presided over the chaos. He looked visibly upset as news of more and more deaths poured in. He said his staff had buried 453 bodies.
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Outside, an old woman cried, beating her chest. A child's body lay before her.
Paulons, a middle-aged fisherman, sat with a few others on a bench. They all poured over a Tamil newspaper.
"It was 10 in the morning. The sea was calm like it is now. Suddenly the water started coming inland at a tremendous speed. There was no wave as such...the water was just speeding in. It went 2 km beyond the shore, destroying everything in its path. Then the wave receded at even greater speed," he said recounting what he saw when tsunami struck Colachel on Monday.
All this, he said, lasted just 5 minutes. The men sharing the newspaper with Paulons said they were lucky tsunami struck in the morning. In the night, more people would have been in their houses on the shore.
Interestingly, those out in the sea did not feel anything. Local MLA K T Pachamal had just boarded a survey ship to see how it worked. His Ambassador car on the shore was washed away. Till he returned to the shore, he had no idea that tsunami had struck his people.
Pachamal said the rescue and relief work was chaotic on the first day. "Things have improved since," he said. With power supply lines down, relief work even now slowed down after sunset.
On the shore, someone had placed an idol of the Lady of Health from Velankanni. Her crown shone bright in the morning light. Behind her, the angry sea on Sunday had thrown a boat over a compound wall. In the neighbouring compound was another upturned boat. A part of a massive wall had been destroyed.
Over 500 huts were washed away when tsunami struck.
Paulons continued his story: "I am 50 and I have never seen anything like this. Even my father has never seen anything like this."
Selvam, another fisherman, said: "We buried 284 people in one grave and 200 more in another."
Since tsunami struck a day after Christmas, Paulons and his friends had not ventured into the sea. But they all have lost their fishing equipment, which they left on the beach. Many boats also were washed away.
"God is angry with us. He said that the world would last only for 2000 years...it's four years beyond the deadline," mumbled an old man sitting nearby.