M A I N   N E W S

4,657 missing from Katchal island
Sridhar K. Chari writes from Port Blair

THE latest figures provided by the Integrated Relief Command (IRC) here today reveal that roughly 77 per cent of the 6010 officially declared “missing”, a figure of 4657, are from the island of Katchal in the southern Nicobar group.

The 2001 Census figure for the population of Katchal is 5312, which would mean that roughly 90 per cent of the island’s people are missing, but for the fact that there were many settlers, construction workers from the PWD and others on the island. This accounts for the total figure of 8512 persons estimated to have been the population of the island, as provided by the IRC yesterday.

In any case, the island of Katchal thus emerges as the worst affected in the group, as the figure for missing in the Car Nicobar island is 494, in comparison with its population of 20,292. The IRC Operations Head and Vice-Chairman, Lt-Gen B.S. Thakur said the rest had essentially been “accounted for”, as they were now in touch with all the village “captains” there. “But these figures are dynamic, as they can change. The western villages are being accessed only by helicopter drops, and we hope to soon have a helipad in the western range. Our personnel are moving to those areas mainly on foot, and that takes time.” The other major loss is in the Komorta island with 438 “missing”.

The IRC is not declaring the missing figure as “presumed dead” simply because of existing statutes, which require a person to be “missing” for some years before being declared dead. Lt-Governor Ram Kapse said that given the nature of this tragedy, there would have to be some kind of parliamentary action to ensure that the missing don’t have to remain legally missing indefinitely before death compensation can be given to their families. There is also the assumption that it is possible to live off the thick jungles and plantations in many of the islands.

Providing more overall figures, General Thakur said that to date 900 bodies had been disposed of, 9229 had been evacuated to Port Blair, while 2300 had been sent to the mainland. As many as 110 camps had been established all over, in which 21,100 persons had been stationed.

The IRC resources were augmented today with five MI-8 and MI-17 helicopters, which were flown here via Bangladesh and Burma (they do not have the range to fly directly here). To date over 210 fixed-wing and 37 helicopter sorties had been flown in support of the relief operations.

The evacuation from Campbell Bay continued with another 143 moved out today. Shifting of the population from Chowra to Terressa island is almost complete.

A sum of Rs 2000 each is being given to the affected families in the camps in Port Blair from the Lt-Governor’s Relief Fund. The reserves were augmented with a donation of Rs 10 lakh from Vijaya Bank. The four Indonesian nationals rescued yesterday, in consultation with the Home Ministry, had been declared “guests” and not intruders into Indian waters. The total loss from damage to jetties in the islands had been estimated at Rs 523 crore, he revealed.

Earlier in the day, the Chief of Air Staff Air Marshal S.P. Tyagi, said that the rebuilding of the Car Nicobar airbase would be started soon. “This is a terrible tragedy, but the bright spot is the way our services have responded.” Personnel quarters would be relocated more inland, to the west of the runway, and a decision on whether this would become a non-family station would be made at a more appropriate time, the Air Chief said.

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