M A I N   N E W S

Fresh alert triggers panic
Manmohan undertakes aerial survey
Arup Chanda
Tribune News Service

Chennai, December 30
Large-scale panic prevailed throughout Tamil Nadu today seriously affecting rescue and relief operations following an alert by the Union Home Ministry that a fresh tsunami might strike the coastal states in south India due to an under sea earthquake near Australia.

Not only did relief work get affected as a large number of people fled for safety from their homes in the coastal districts of south India but even Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visited only one relief camp at Kolachel in Kanyakumari district in Tamil Nadu and later only conducted an aerial survey of the affected areas.

Dr Manmohan Singh said his government would provide special care for tsunami-affected women and children and was committed to helping those who had lost everything.

He told the victims: “Life cannot be compensated. But the government will do whatever humanly possible to restart the life with self-respect. I have come here to offer assistance and share your grief.” He said the Centre had already announced Rs 500 crore for the affected states.

Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa too cut short her tour after visiting Cuddalore and Nagapattinam and returned to the state capital.

The information about a fresh tsunami strike around noon spread like wildfire and people in the worst-hit Nagapattinam district came rushing out of their homes and ran helter shelter looking for refuge.

All, old and young, men, women, children and even policemen ran for their lives as the administration sent the message from house to house instead announcing through a loudspeaker to prevent a stampede. A large number even headed for the neighbouring district town of Thiruvarur, 30 km from there.

While some left on two-wheelers many boarded buses to leave Nagapattinam as early as possible. The December 26 tsunami attack being fresh in their minds villagers from faraway places in the district even walked all way with their belongings.

Even volunteers and rescue workers stopped their work and left for safer places fearing a fresh tsunami attack.

The same scene was witnessed in other tsunami-affected districts of south India. In the southern most district of India in Kanyakumari, people panicked after they heard that anytime between noon and 3 pm there might be another killer tidal wave hitting the tourist town.

In the Union Territory of Pondicherry and Cuddalore district of Tamil Nadu, which were also badly affected by Sunday’s tsunami, residents deserted their homes on the sea shore and fled inland to be far away from the ocean.

Cuddalore District Collector Gagandeep Singh Bedi said the administration could not take any chances and evacuated people in 51 villages in the district. He said: “The district administration has also been asked to keep the district under alert. People have been advised to keep away from the low-lying areas near the coast and move to safer places.”

Most of these evacuees had just returned to their villages from the relief camps after Sunday’ tsunami killed around 700 persons in Cuddalore district but were forced out because of the alert.

Mr Bedi said: “Within half an hour, we evacuated the people to safer places.”

In the state capital too, panic prevailed and employees in government offices located on the Marina Beach road reached the upper floors on to the terrace watching the sea. Those working at the light house on the beach too went right up and watched the water level rising apprehending another tidal wave.

The Chennai city police immediately set up barricades and closed all roads leading to the Marina Beach. It evacuated the beach and did not allow anyone to venture out. Even 1,500 workers of the Municipal Corporation, who were clearing the beach of debris, were asked to leave.

Those at the Foreshore Estate, which suffered the most on Sunday, were asked to leave since they had been coming from the relief camps during the day trying to retrieve whatever they could from their damaged homes.

The police has fitted a television camera on top of the light house which is beaming images of the sea right into the computer at the desk of the Chennai City Police Commissioner, Mr R. Nataraj. Mr Nataraj said: “The computer is on 24 hours and we are maintaining vigil and while watching the images we can take decisions and, if need be, immediately evacuate people from various parts of the beach to prevent any further loss of lives.”


Mud volcano erupts in Andaman

Port Blair, December 30
A mud volcano at the inhabited Baratang Island in Middle Andaman has erupted but the administration has said there is no cause for concern.

“Mud keeps bubbling in the volcano, but on December 28, the eruption was up to three metres and there was considerable heat,” Inspector General of Police S.B. Deol said here.

He said the volcano was located on one side of Baratang Island, which was about 100 km from Port Blair. — PTIBack


Health guidelines for tsunami-hit areas
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, December 30
The Centre has issued technical guidelines to the tsunami-affected states on public health measures to be adopted.

According to the Union Health and Family Welfare Ministry, no outbreak of diseases has been reported by the state authorities to the regional offices of Health and Family Welfare. Meanwhile, a Central team of epidemiologists, currently in Nagapattinam, is inquiring into reports regarding the outbreak of diarrhoea in the district.

The Centre sent four more teams of public health experts to Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Tamil Nadu, Pondicherry, Kerala and Andhra Pradesh.

Union Health and Family Welfare Minister Anbumani Ramadoss is already camping in Chennai to review medical relief activities in the tsunami-affected coastal areas in Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry.

Emergency medical relief of Rs 40 crore has been supplied and the situation is being constantly monitored. A team of eight physicians, two public health experts and 20 nurses has been sent to the Andaman and Nicobar Islands in addition to a five-member team of physicians, surgeons and public health experts.

A team of twelve members from the CGHS, Kolkata and AIIH & PH have also reached Andaman and Nicobar Islands with essential emergency medical stores. Director-General of Health Services S.P. Aggarwal, who is currently in Chennai, today reviewed the health situation with the public health experts.

International agencies like WHO are also involved in the review of the affected areas. Nine ICMR teams, six in Tamil Nadu, two in Andhra Pradesh and one in Kerala, are assisting the Central team in the public health related activities.


SAARC summit postponed
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, December 30
The 13th SAARC summit, scheduled to be held in Bangladesh capital Dhaka from January 9, has been postponed in view of the tsunami tragedy that struck three member countries — Sri Lanka, Maldives and India.

Bangladesh Foreign Secretary Shmsher Mobin Chodhury this evening called Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran, informing him that keeping in view the tragedy hitting some member countries,

Prime Minister Khaleda Zia had decided that next month’s summit was being postponed, Ministry of External Affairs Spokesman Navtej Sarna said here.

Meanwhile, sources said that Sri Lanka and Maldives, worst hit by the tsunami tidal waves, had expressed their inability to attend the three-day summit.

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