M A I N   N E W S

54 shocks rock Andamans
Thousands missing; inaccessibility hampers rescue
Sridhar K Chari
Tribune News Service

Port Blair, December 29
A staggering 54 aftershocks of magnitude above 5.0 on the Richter scale have been recorded in the seas off the Andaman and Nicobar islands, following the 8.6 magnitude quake at 6.29 on December 26, even as the remoteness and inaccessibility of several of the worst-hit islands continue to stymie rescue efforts.

Data collected by the India Meteorological Department at its office in Shadipur, Port Blair, show that four aftershocks were recorded even today, with one at 7.21 a.m. at 6.1 on the Richter scale. They were not felt at Port Blair, unlike yesterday, when several of the 13 recorded yesterday caused tremors strong enough to make people run out of buildings. Then there is the story of 13-year-old Meghna Rajashekar, who survived in the waters of Car Nicobar for 48 hours holding on to something, cringing as snakes and turtles brushed past her, before being rescued. The parents, her father was in the Air Force, were not so lucky.

There is a deceptive veneer of normalcy in Port Blair town, with even the tourism desk at the airport being manned. Talk to the people, however, and the tales of how the seas decided to come visiting their homes tumble out. Most restaurants are not functioning as there is little water, and the higher-end hotels can only offer a dark, evil looking brew coming out of the taps.

With several of the jetties in Port Blair in poor condition, and the jetties in the Southern Nicobar islands washed out, accessibility is a big problem. Says Chief Secretary V.V. Bhat: “The logistics now are a big challenge. We need to organise many more task forces so that we can efficiently start distributing relief now available with us.”

As Lt Governor Ram Kapse himself put it, with regard to some of the remote islands: “Today relief has begun.” That is four days after the waves struck these string of “emerald islands.”

Administrators, including Mr Kapse, give conflicting counts of missing and presumed dead — the confusion, in fact, is a function of the sheer difficulty they are facing in even assessing the situation. Officially now, the body count is 309, with 10,000 missing in Car Nicobar itself (half of the population there), of which 3,000 can be “reasonably presumed to have been washed away.” Seven villages were washed away in Car Nicobar.

The fate of many aboriginal tribes in the islands is still uncertain. Mr Kapse feels that the Jarawas in the Andamans are safe, as are the hostile Sentinelese on the Sentinel island. In places like Katchal, the entire coastal communities have been washed out. The long Trinkat island has been cut into two islands. In many of the islands like Hutbay, breakwater arms have been eroded, and roads and bridges broken down. In the Air Force base at Car Nicobar, 68 personnel are dead. several government officials, including a Chief Judicial Magistrate, Mr Joshi, have also died.

Mr Kapse stated that Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh is slated to visit the islands on Dec 31.

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