** Disclaimer : Lengthy Post **
It was a wonderful Sunday, 26th December 2004, a day just after the Christmas. Studying a convent school Christmas was a huge celebration for us in school and after week-long Christmas activities it was time to be back to studies. I was in my 11th standard and had my morning Chemistry tuition. As usual my dad left me at the tuition center and went to the temple as there was some special day (Makaravilaku Pooja). My mother and elder brother were at home and sleeping. Since the day starts pretty early in the islands, my tuition was around 5 am in the morning much better than the 4 am mathematics tuition I went.
We were in the middle of the class when at about 6 am the plastic chair in which my sir was seated started shaking. Since our sir always used to play pranks on us, we thought this was also another prank and were about to ignore it when the wooden sofa in which we were seated also started shaking terribly. And it just struck us that it’s another earthquake and we all stood up to rush out. Living in Andaman, earthquakes was never new to us, the islands are on the tectonic plates hence earthquake was not something the locals were not aware of. Only thing different about this time’s earthquake was that as we were heading outside the house the tremors were not stopping at all and it was more than just few seconds. We were not even able to walk out properly, the tremors were that bad and somehow we were all out under the open. I even fell down and broke my specs that I was wearing. I think the tremors lasted for at least 5 minutes which was unusual and then it stopped. By that time everyone was outside their houses and shocked as to what had just happened. We were just making sure that everyone was okay. Our sir told us to call our parents and called off the classes. All my close friends stayed in the same area so they all rushed to their houses to see if everything was okay. I gave a ring to my dad and he was also in shock and said he felt the tremors too and is on his way to pick me up.
Dad came and picked me up. Before we left the area he suggested that we go and buy some fresh vegetables from the harbor side market and some sea food. We also went and met one of our relatives whose house was very close to the harbor. They stayed in government quarters and there were major cracks in the floor and walls. We checked on them and went to the market. Suddenly we heard people talking that the passenger waiting hall at the port broke and fell in the sea, I was very curious to see it and started insisting on my dad that we go have a check. My dad scolded me and was like there would be too much crowd and the police would start chasing off people, so we better hurry up and reach home. He tried to call the landline but it was out-of-order and we assumed it to be because of the tremors. While we were hurrying buying few grocery we suddenly saw the crowd running towards us from the harbor and shouting “paani aa raha hai “ which meant water is coming. All of us around there couldn’t understand what meant by “pani aa raha hai” and the need to run. For the local this only meant the daily water supply that all the houses get and so people running shouting this line was weird. We tried to look a little further and we saw something that I would have never ever thought of or would ever want to see it again.
At about 6.30 am a huge wave almost five times the height of me (am 5”2) coming towards the market area and people running away from it. We couldn’t believe our eyes and all we wanted was to RUN. This was the same wave which hit Chennai and other places in India at about 9.30 am. My dad started the bike and we were riding as fast as possible among the chaos which already had started by this time. I still remember the moment when we were passing by the main road and the parallel street where the water was just flooding in was where my friends stayed. Tears rolled down my eyes because it was too late for us to go warn them and as the corner of my eye could see as far as possible it was water filling up the roads and houses. The only thought running in my dad and my mind was to reach home and be with mom and brother before we breathe our last. Meanwhile tremors kept happening and we were trying to warn as many people on the road shouting “pani aa raha hia” and like us no one was able to figure out what it meant. By the time we reached home mom and brother were standing in the front yard and looking panicked. Many of the coconut trees and other trees were uprooted or fallen down due to the earthquake. We tried explaining what we saw near the harbor and asked mom and brother to pack up anything important and to leave to some higher ground. Our house was near a school ground which was on a pretty higher area we decided to move up there. My mom just took some water bottle changed her night-dress and we headed to the big ground. By the time we reached almost everyone in our locality were also present there. I remember before leaving the house the huge crack on the floor and walls and were not even sure if we would come back alive. We were only happy for the fact that all four of us were together now. Everyone started talking what happened. None of us had ever heard of the natural phenomenon called Tsunami. We kept hearing people here and there as they came to the ground that the water is coming in big height waves and people are being taken into the sea etc. We stayed in the ground a day or two. I am still not able to remember what happened actually. The tremors continued but not like the one in the morning. When things got a little cooled down we came home. Everything was shut, no electricity no landline connection nothing at all.
This was my last memory of the tsunami. Thankfully other than the cracks in the house and the trees getting uprooted nothing happened to us or in our area since it was in a heighted place. But as hours went by we started hearing about people whom we know who got wiped off in the tsunami waves, their houses lost, family members lost. So many of my very close people lost lives. My friend Kavita’s dad who was posted in another island survived day one of the tsunami waves but eventually we never head back from him ever again. I remember my mom’s close friend who lost her elder son daughter in law and both the grand children in the tsunami. As days went by we got to know how severe the tsunami was in the islands. Due to lack of connectivity there was a huge communication gap. Once the landlines were up we informed our relatives in Kerala that all of us were fine and nothing happened to us. Then the news channels started showing the tsunami breaking news and even then it was about how badly Chennai was hit and “also Andaman”.
The world especially India didn’t know how badly the Andaman and specially the Nicobar islands were hit by the Tsunami until the journalist Deepak Chourasia reached the islands. Almost 3 to 4 huge water wave wall swiped the entire island chain to destruction. Cars and other vehicles on the trees, house demolished, and roads filled with water. The entire air force residential area in the Nicobar Island got swept out. The Trinket Island broke into three pieces. The southernmost tip of India – Indira point’s light house was submerged by 4 mts. Many other islands. We kept hearing news of family and friends who lost lives. How bad the damage was and the relief work which started. Every day we would hear the news of someone found in some place, the lucky ones or the bodies of someone found under some building. It was a bad time. I remember since many schools were ruined and teachers lost their lives the public was being brought to Port Blair and all the city school students were sent to the relief camps for teaching them. I think this was about a month or so am not sure. I remember teaching the primary class students and like me many other people had started coming in to help in the relief work.
I was lucky to not have faced any personal loss not even materialistic but this event would always remind us of how small we are in front of nature. I remember a girl from my school Almas she was in 5th standard then.
Her missing report was being shown all over the news channels. She had lost her dad, her mother her younger sister and everyone from her maternal side in the tsunami. And the relief soldiers found her after some days. When the former President Late Shri A.P.J Abdul Kalam visited the islands few of us from the school were sent to attend the event and he called for this girl and made her sit on his lap and pamper her. It was an emotional scene leaving everyone’s eye wet.
Andaman and Nicobar Islands survived the 9.2 Richter scale earthquake which triggered the Tsunami. It took the islanders about a year or so to come into regular life but we did. We didn’t lose faith and hope and we didn’t fight over things. We helped each other and stood by each other. We opened our doors for the homeless, we shared whatever we could with the deprived ones.
Well this was my experience of the Tsunami. Just to state some more generic information about one of world’s tragic incident.
- The western coast of Indonesia was shaken by a 9.2 magnitude earthquake, the fourth biggest in recent times.
- The damage was felt in 14 countries, and 1.7m were made homeless in the aftermath. It was not one but subsequent Tsunami waves that left so many people homeless
- It was also the longest earthquake ever recorded, lasting for between eight and ten minutes. Normally, a moderate earthquake might last a few seconds.
- There was no tsunami warning system in the Indian Ocean to detect tsunamis or to warn the hundreds of thousands of people who lived in coastal areas.
- Banda Aceh is the worst hit, with more than 60 per cent of its buildings destroyed by a wave that was over 30ft high.
- The gap between the first Tsunami wave and the next was very less which left people surprised and no chance to recover from what happened.
- The city of Port Blair, got saved because of the Ross island which divided the huge waves to two parts
- The ancient knowledge of secret signals in the wind and sea combined to save the five indigenous tribes living for centuries in the Andaman and Nicobar islands from the catastrophic tsunami.
- Katchal Island, part of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, was one of the worst affected of the islands having lost some 90 percent of it’s population in the devastation by the tsunami waves.
- As of today, many tsunami warning systems have been established and whenever there is heavy cyclone, depression or earthquake Tsunami warning is sent out across the island chain to warn people.
Its only during natural calamities that brings humans close to each other and when humanity against nature is tested. And time has proven that always the latter has won.
I dedicate this post to all those who lost their lives all over the world in the 26th December 2004 Tsunami. I also dedicate this post to all the family and friends of the people who lost their lives for whom it was such a big loss. I dedicate this post to all those people who contributed even in the tiniest way possible to support the relief work. God bless all !!!
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