M A I N   N E W S

Aftershocks push up water level
Campbell Bay airstrip faces flood threat
Sridhar K. Chari writes from the Andamans

Port Blair, December 31
The water level in the seas off Campbell Bay in the southern most island of Great Nicobar in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands is rising, posing further problems to the people who continue to be stranded there, and to the efforts being made by the services to reach rescue efforts.

Defence sources confirmed to The Tribune that the water levels had indeed risen over the last couple of days, and attribute it to both the continuing aftershocks in the region, and the quake off the Australian coast. Already devastated by the quake and tsunamis on 26th, the population there is being forced to move to higher ground, which is luckily available.

Unfortunately, though, the airstrip at Campbell Bay is being affected, with waters swirling in, and which increase at high tide. All but the most skillful pilots of the Indian Air Force AN-32s and Dorniers are managing to land. About four sorties were conducted today.

One saving grace though is that today, after six days, the Indian Oil Depot at Car Nicobar, the other devastated island, 155 nautical miles (287 km) to the north of Great Nicobar, is now up and running again. That means aircraft can refuel at Car Nicobar and reach Campbell Bay. “From tomorrow, more sorties will reach Campbell Bay.”

The Lighthouse at Indira Point in the island, the southern most tip of India, has “got detached” from the land and all 18 lighthouse employees are missing.

The Lt-Governor, Prof Ram Kapse, is touring Campbell Bay, and might stay there overnight today. Local administration officials did not wish to confirm the rising waterlevel there, preferring to say: “Yes, may be. But it is a matter for verification.”

The population of Campbell Bay according to the 2001 census is 4113. The total population of Great Nicobar is 7756, and the total number evacuated as per the administration here stands at 275. Where are the rest? The number of those missing, for the entire A & N islands, is 3754. The population of the southern Nicobar group in all, is more than 30,000. The number in relief camps in various places, including Port Blair, is 7853. The number evacuated from various islands, including the Little Andaman, is 3597.

Does that mean that all the rest have been accounted for? How safe really are the tribals there? “I don’t want to get into a debate about the meaning of the numbers. The facts are there before you. We are not hiding anything. But we don’t want to jump to conclusions,” said Chief Secretary V.V. Bhat.

The population figure for Car Nicobar alone is 20,292. (Prof Kapse had already mentioned once that 50 per cent are missing, but the administration is going with the new “official figures.”)

As for the population of other major islands: Katchal 5072; Terressa 1779, Chowra 1225. No evacuations yet from these islands, all badly affected, and posing severe access problems to the service boats and helicopters. Some amount of food and rations have been dropped. Evacuations from Car Nicobar have been halted, and only the injured are being brought in.

A tragedy of staggering proportions has occurred, and is occurring, is the distressing conclusion to be drawn.


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