Five of us (Mohan, John, Stancy, Jincy and I) started out in a Tempo trax on 29th night at 11.30pm, drove right through (via Salem, Namakkal, Misuri ) to a town called Thiruvarur where we were told a lot of refugees from Nagarpatnam and Vellankani had come.
We reached around 11.30am on 30th.. and washed and crashed for a couple of hours. We had planned to drive through to the affected towns immediately but government warnings were sounding of another tsunami headed in our direction which caught us in a dilemma, and quite a bit of fear.. thinking of family left behind and the what-ifs.
Based on the reports and frantic calls from back home, we moved into town instead to visit the refugee camps. These were set up to cater to the needy but what we saw was a lot of beggars piggybacking on the resources provided with little actually reaching the needy who were sitting in corners shell-shocked and unable to comprehend or move or fight the stronger for food packets and clothes. We talked to one lady sitting with a baby clutched tightly and she told us she had lost her husband and had no one else. We passed some food packets and some money to her.
Late evening, we heard that the missives from the government were false, so planned to travel out the next day.
Day 2 we drove out to Vellankani at about 6am. Our local contact took us to the house of someone he knew and found the front of the house completely crushed.. this was about 2 streets from the beach, and everything in front of it had been completely destroyed and washed away. There were bangles and shoes on the beach. A generator lay on its side, pipes twisted like straw. A complete set of shops built of cement and bricks and reinforced structure lay flattened to the ground with even the base crushed. Crows circled overhead. Walls and pillars built to hold and protect, crushed like paper.
We moved on down the beach... and suddenly our contact came running all excited that he had found this family's pictures on some board and they were alive!!.. So he ran ahead and we got the van and went around on the main road.
The catholic church had housed a lot of survivors in their parish house, providing them food, some bedsheets, clothes ..and this man (Stephen) and his mother were on the 4th floor in a room. Apparently Stephen had left town for some work to a place about 20km inside. and his mother had left the house to go to a shop nearby. She heard a loud explosion and then saw waves upto the height of the clouds coming down.. everyone who was out ran inside the city as far as they could.. and took shelter.. the destruction they watched has numbed them...
tsunami - huge waveand its power was redefined visually. We left some money with this family to help them as well as others they come across.
Death toll - 5000 and counting.
We moved to Nagarpatnam which has become a ghost town. This was once a thriving fishing community and the force and strength of the tsunami could be seen here.. In the middle of the city .. lie boats (huge 30-40 footers), picked up like paper balls from the harbor and flung into the city by the tidal wave, crushing houses, people, roads and anything else in their path. The stink was unbearable but the bodies had been cleared out. We saw a pile of about 70 unclaimed bodies buried under a garbage dump.
There was no visible medical facility offering help except for a makeshift table and banner (yes the banner was there!).. but then of course there were no people around. Survivors had run to the outskirts and beyond with whoever they could find.. some reached Thiruvarur and other surrounding towns, more have just disappeared into deserted areas to deal with the horror as they best can. There were no relief operations in sight that we could see, though this was probably clean up time.. more than anything.
Some armed forces units moved into the harbor with bull dozers and heavy equipment as we were leaving. UNICEF vans prowled the towns as did others from other relief-aid organisations, saw a couple of Infosys and other company vans as well. Truckloads of resources contributed by different organisations came to each refugee site and unloaded. At temples a few devotees tried to maintain order and distribute things well but the crowd was overwhelming, and they were helpless.
Death toll 3500 and counting.
A word on the resources needed ... DoN'T send *anything* right now. There's clothes lying in piles because some of the affected folk are too proud to wear cast-offs(!!- only in India).. and then there's just so much its like a beggars shopping mart. We regretted not picking up a couple to at least wipe the windscreen. Food - so much so that as they eat, there's more coming around the corner, they chuck this and go on to the next item on the menu! Water.. like you wouldn't believe they needed to fight for the Cauvery! Cried at the momentous waste.
We met groups of volunteers from different parts of the country - notable was a group of 40 students from Coimbatore come to see what they could do as part of AIMS India Foundation. We were impressed with their spirit, but like us, they could find nothing practical to put their hand to. Check who you send your money to.. the spirit is excited and compassionate but the practical end of it is just phenomenal waste.
New Year's eve we spent in a church in Thiruvarur, and then drove back at 2 in the morning. We were back in Bangalore by afternoon new years day. A life changing experience.. wish I could do more. An organisation in Singapore is interested in rebuilding efforts in these cities.. we hope to be a physical and practical part of this when it happens.
Some other ideas we had - we can fund and physically help start up relief plans in Tiruvarur like:
- tailoring unit as rehab for widows and ladies left unsupported
- widow-orphan adoption program to care for mothers and children and meet psychological needs as well.
- computer training centres at nominal prices...
- rebuilding program recruiting the affected people themselves as builders
- take on lifetime school and accomodation fees for kids left behind
Just heard from a friend in Australia that his relatives in Sri Lanka were badly affected (lost money, houses, gold, literally their entire life's savings), and some of his friends are still reported missing. 30000 dead as of now and 1000s missing.
150,000 in one sweep..