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Tsunami Two Years On
A small miracle in Nagapattinam
Arup Chanda
Tribune News Service

Nagapattinam (TN), December 25
Two years ago several coastal hamlets in this district of Tamil Nadu was wiped out by the tsunami on Boxing Day.

While properties and houses belonging to fishermen were damaged, this district accounted for 70 per cent of the deaths in mainland India - with 6,063 dead and many maimed for life.

The entire coastal terrain of the district was in a shambles, its beaches and fishing villages were a picture of devastation, as broken boats, destroyed huts, decimated households and twisted, misshapen remains of steel, wood and stone were seen everywhere.

Whole hamlets had vanished under the consuming waves of the killer tsunami. Thousands had lost their lives and livelihoods, and household property.

People, who visited the town about 380 km from Chennai and neighbouring villages, had gone back with vivid memories of wailing mothers, orphaned children, and sullen fishermen.

None could have imagined that these people would in two years recover from this natural disaster with pride and dignity and that they would regain their livelihood and property and display remarkable resilience and look forward to a brighter future.

There is a remarkable turnaround in their status, attitude, way of life and efforts towards changing their lives.

This remarkable recovery , this resilience is the true story in the tragedy-hit areas of Nagapattinam.

After two years problems, mainly housing still exists, but the district has turned around with a sea change in women power.

Said Mangamaa, a woman belonging to the fishing community, "Earlier, we would sell small quantities and bad quality of fish after our menfolk sold the big catch. Now, we are no more dependant on earnings from fishing." Since fishermen could not venture out to the sea after the tsunami and they knew no other vocation they were at a loss and the women had no income of their own.”

Said a supervisor of a self-help group (SHG), “But now, we have an alternative of earning a living. She along with a few sister groups are engaged in producing micro-concrete roofing tiles, an alternate building material that has begun to transform their lives from a status of bleak deprivation to one of economic empowerment and profitability.

With tsunami reconstruction projects still on these tiles are in great demand and each woman earns Rs 1500 a month from this project - much more than what they used earn selling fish.

For villages that were almost wiped off the map by the tsunami, the comeback has been amazing. Akkaraipetti and Keechankuppam, known the world over as the worst-affected habitations in India, lost more than 1600 inhabitants along with most of their houses, fishing boats, mechanised trawlers, community infrastructure such as schools, fish auction halls and drying centres.

The main problem which is being still faced is housing. Though 18,634 houses are still being constructed only 7,179 houses could be completed, and only 2,120 have been handed over to the tsunami victims. Ten thousand more houses are needed and families living in tin shelters are facing difficulties as they are very hot and humid inside and during the summer seasons there had been an outbreak of chicken pox, particularly among children.

Two years on and as life moves along, what better way than to look at Ground Zero and its resurgence.



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