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Back to the beaches for Chennai-ites

By Aditi Phadnis in Chennai
January 10, 2005 09:51 IST
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Two weeks after the waves hit the Marina Beach in Chennai, the city is not gripped by panic anymore. Places like Kotturpuram and Anna Nagar, the city's affluent pockets, appear to have recovered from the shock of the 40-ft high waves.

However, people still describe in awe how the waves that Sunday morning looked like "tight bands, coming at us with a roaring sound and exploding like gigantic rubber bands snapping".

One said she saw pralayam. Said another, "The sea exploded." Graphic descriptions, such as these, abound.

But as the city goes about on its work now, concern for those living in the Nagapattinam, Cuddalore and Kanyakumari districts has not abated.

An SMS that went out across the city on Sunday read: "Orphaned children need used toys. They need to forget their trauma and start living again. Psychological calamities can be worse than national calamities."

Although the state government has announced that the number of orphaned children -- those who have lost both their father and mother and have no one to take care of them -- is just 166, it is the plight of these children that is preoccupying the administration.

The government has vowed to keep Rs 5 lakh in a trust for each child so his/her upkeep till secondary education is provided for.

But no one, least of all the children, is worrying about restarting education. The social welfare department is running several orphanages until some permanent solution can be found.

But this, everyone acknowledges, is not a satisfactory solution. Incentives for adoption would have been one option but rules governing adoption in India are strict and the state government does not want to do anything that could abet trafficking.

Estimates are that between 2,000 and 3,000 children died in Tamil Nadu alone. The 166 that are left are society's responsibility. It is on them that city is focussing now. The SMS is one imaginative response.

According to figures collated at the end of January 8 and released by the State Relief Commissioner's office, the total number of villages affected is 326, which were inhabited by almost 900,000 people. Around 10,000 hectares of standing crops were destroyed and 7,951 lives lost. The toll is the highest in Nagapattinam (6,038) and Kanyakumari (821).

Almost 200,000 people have been evacuated from Nagapattinam alone. Now that the worst is behind them, there are a whole lot of 'what if' scenarios that are plaguing people's minds.

What if the civil administration had been unprepared and thousands of people had trooped into the cities as refugees? What if cholera had broken out?

What if Tamil Nadu had not been the only state in India to have had a unique Medical Services Corporation that is responsible for centralised purchase of medicines and at the worst of times, has at least six months supply of essential medicines? What if another tsunami strikes?

These questions bring into sharp focus all that the government has managed to do. A state government bureaucrat explained that if the post-disaster management was bad enough, the management of the relief has been even more difficult, especially as relief is pouring in by the planeload.

As gently as they can, officials in charge of relief are explaining that it is pointless sending used clothes for those living in relief camps.

"The fishermen community is proud and dignified. It feels offended and slighted by offers of used clothes," said an officer.

"We have enough blankets, enough clothes, enough food. Tamil Nadu's pharmaceutical companies are providing all the medicines we need."

So what do the tsunami-struck need? On Pongal (January 15), the government will announce it will build 100,000 homes for those who have lost their homes. Each home will cost Rs 10,000. Around 50,000 will be built by the government and the rest by nongovernmental organisations.

Industrial houses are trying to pitch in with imaginative solutions. Reliance Industries will, from Monday, start distributing specially built steel trunks (of the kind that was a must-have for grandmothers of a certain generation across India) with the following articles in each trunk: two saris, two dhotis, two blankets, two towels, two soaps, two washing soaps, one mirror, one comb, 2 kg milk powder, 1 kg coffee powder, 2 kg sugar, 1 litre edible oil, four stainless steel plates, four tumblers, one stove, 10 kg rice and one radio set. Around 1,000 such trunks will be distributed at a total cost of Rs 25 lakh. This looks like a good way to start.

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Aditi Phadnis in Chennai
Source: source