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'Lord see that the wounds heal'

By A Ganesh Nadar in Velankanni
Last updated on: January 12, 2005 21:13 IST
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Driving through Tamil Nadu's Tanjore and Thiruvarur districts one can't help but notice the lush fields, which extend right up to the horizon.

On entering Velankanni in Nagapattinam district, the first stop is the famous Basilica of Our Lady of Health. There is bleaching powder everywhere and soon your eyes begin to ache.

Less than 100 metres from the church is a government-run liquor shop with a bar attached. Those who are still alive after the tsunami disaster are welcome to drown their sorrows here. Even in Colachel in Kanyakumari district, liquor shops were open two days after the tsunami struck.

Coming back to Velankanni, there are huge pandals outside the village panchayat office [also referred to as town office in rural areas] to shelter people from the sweltering heat.

A huge crowd has gathered to collect aid - Rs 4,000/- in cash, 60kg rice, 3 litres kerosene and a packet of clothes.

People said they would collect the rice and kerosene later because they had no place to store them. They were given tokens, which they could redeem later in ration shops.

Local officials had on Tuesday found seven bodies and expected to find some more on Wednesday. The debris has not been cleared though bulldozers and earthmovers are working round the clock.

The officer is in charge of relief operations was giving orders: Clean up the streets, clean up the toilets. Get all the data up to date. I want to know how many inmates are there in each camp. Everybody on their toes, there is a central team visiting tomorrow (Wednesday).

One old woman came crying to the project officer, Manohar. Officials had not registered her name in the list of affected people. He told them to add her name to the list. There are 1,438 families on the list.

The Mannargudi municipal commissioner was in charge of cleaning up the beach, which was littered with debris. Assistant Divisional Engineer (Special Projects) G Pandurangan was cleaning up the town. The local administration had asked for five more bulldozers.

The streets were full of earthmovers, which were clearing debris and loading them on lorries and tractors. People were trying to clean their houses.

The government had formed 11 teams and each had been given a specific task. The teams consist of officials from the PWD, highways, fisheries, health departments, local bodies and volunteers.

Backward Class Minister Velusamy visited Velankanni to see if relief work was going according to plan. When officials asked him to distribute relief material, the first thing the minister did was to shift everyone towards the shade. Busy in relief work, no one had noticed the heat.

Project Office Manohar told that some people had locked their houses and run away. They had found dead bodies in some of those houses on Tuesday, perhaps deposited there by the surging waters.

Outside the church we could hear the priest's voice raised in prayer: God help the wounded, Lord see that the wounds heal and don't get infected. See that there is no epidemic. The Lord be with you. And with you.

(A Ganesh Nadar has been travelling northwards from Kanyakumari to Cuddalore in the tsunami-hit areas of the Tamil Nadu coast)

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A Ganesh Nadar in Velankanni