Hundreds of survivors of the Indian Ocean tsunami gathered on the beaches of Tamil Nadu on Thursday to mourn relatives and friends who died when giant tidal waves crashed into coastal villages of the state on this day 15 years ago,killing 8,000 people in the state.
People gathered on the shorelines of Chennai, Thiruvanmiyur, Karaikal, Velankanni, Nagapattinam and Nagore to observe the anniversary of the disaster, one of the world’s worst natural calamities, which killed at least 200,000 people across 14 countries.
“Though years have passed, we are still unable to come out of that shock,” said Rajendran, a 65-year-old resident of Vizhundhamavadi, a fishing hamlet.
Eleven people died in Vizhundhamavadi in the tsunami triggered by an undersea earthquake off Sumatra in Indonesia. Survivors have stayed on in the coastal hamlet rather than vacate it and move inland because “we have no sources of income other than fishing”, said Rajendran.
The tsunami struck minutes after sunrise on the day after Christmas, devastating villages in Chennai, Mamallapuram, Vedaranyam, Cuddalore, Nagapattinam, Tiruvallur, Villupuram and Karaikal districts in Tamil Nadu and Puducherry. Nagapattinam bore the brunt of the calamity, which claimed 6,065 lives in the district alone, and destroyed thousands of homes with everything they contained. Many survivors never received the remains of their next of kin.
“My wife and my son had gone to Velankanni by walk from our native Thanjavur. On December 26, 2004, both died. I struggled for two days to retrieve the bodies of my son and wife. The tsunami has changed my life,” said Koothaperumal, a resident of Thanjavur.
About 80 students of Keechankuppam Panchayat Union Middle School died in the tsunami. Many of those who were at the Shrine of Our Lady of Health in Velankanni in Nagapattinam for Christmas celebrations also perished. The Tamil Nadu government performed a mass burial in an empty ground in Velankanni.
Forty-four government schools, four primary health centres and one government hospital were left in ruins.
“Although the tsunami hit on a Sunday, 80 out of 425 school students lost their lives as many resided near the school,” said R Balu, head master of the Keechankuppam Panchayat Union Middle School. Many of the children were playing outside when the giant waves of water crashed into the village, he said.
The school has tried to put the disaster behind it and move on. After dropping to as low as 92 in the immediate aftermath of the tsunami, enrolment in the rebuilt school has risen to 450; it has introduced smart classes, winning the International Standardisation Organisation (ISO) certificate in 2017, Balu said.
The government, non-government organisations and companies, under their corporate social responsibility initiatives, built around 19,000 houses for the tsunami survivors of Tamil Nadu.
“As the houses were built in a hurry, we have not even got a proper toilet facility. Our rehabilitation houses have crossed 14 years. So, many of them are in a tumbling condition,” said S Selventhiran, a resident Nagore, Nagapattinam.
Because of the poor condition of their houses, many residents of the rehabilitation housing colony may move to huts, he said.