India Uncut

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Saturday, January 01, 2005

Despatches 13: Disaster management

Vailakanni, the town famous for its church, the Shrine Basilica, is a lesson in disaster management. The waves struck there after Sunday mass, with 1000 people on the shore just behind the church to take a dip. At first when they saw the big waves, they laughed. But then the water came closer, and they realised that they were in trouble. They ran for it but the slowest runners, the women and children, could not make it. At least 800 people died.

The state administration did not kick into action, but the church did. Unlike in other villages that we had visited, the bodies did not lie unclaimed for days, but were quickly disposed of. Whichever ones were identified by relatives were taken away by them, and buried or cremated according to their preference. The rest were photographed and disposed of, with the photographs put on a bulletin board so that relatives could identify their kin.

A counselling unit with 12 counsellers was set up, and as volunteers flocked in to help, they were assigned specific tasks. All relief organisations that came here to help went to this one central location, from where they were guided.

The result is that Vailakanni is virtually the first coastal village on this trip where I saw no bodies at all. In fact, if you were a tourist casually dropping in, it would take you some time to figure out that something had happened here. The sea is calm, and so is the village.
amit varma, 10:39 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage

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