CHENNAI: That fateful Sunday, fruit seller Kanniamma went to the Triplicane beach area a little early to sell the previous day’s fruits.
With business not happening as expected, Kanniamma decides to curl up and take a nap. Roughly 15 minutes later, she woke up to what she thought were pesky sand crabs.
Instead, it was the beach sand rumbling. Little did she realise that it was the after-effect of a deep sea earthquake that had struck Indonesia and which would, moments later, go on to wreak the worst ever damage to the coast here.
Kanniamma, now 63, is one of the few who survived the giant wave on December 26, 2004, and lived to tell the tale, thanks to D Rajan, the fisherman who rescued her. Rajan was a 22-year-old sanitary worker for the Chennai Corporation back then. Having finished his night shift, he was about to catch forty winks when the neighbourhood’s loud cries woke him up to the natural phenomenon unfurling before his eyes.
“I woke up to find a catamaran about 50 metres from my home and we live about 2.5 km away from the shore,” says Rajan, who now drives for a travels company.
Rajan and his friend Kathir thought on their feet.
Grabbing on to the catamaran, the duo waded back towards the beach in neck deep-water hoping to rescue people.
There they spotted Kanniamma and two others holding on to their lives, aided by a piece of log that was put there by fishermen to dry nets. “If it wasn’t for the log, she too would have been washed away like the rest,” adds Rajan. Kanniamma, though, sees it differently. As far as she is concerned, Rajan was her godsend.
“What I saw on that day, I wish to never see it again. It was as if the waves were systematically wiping out the population. It entered the road from the side of the Cooum and was travelling towards the Light House rising in height,” says Kanniamma.
“I prayed out to all the Gods out there when I started seeing people being washed away. I called out the names of Iyyappa, Vinayaka, Jesus, Perumal and everyone,” she adds. Call it coincidence, but Rajan was observing the rigorous 48-day abstinence prior to his maiden pilgrimage to Sabarimala. He says that he opted against making the trip after helping the rescue teams remove bodies that had washed up by the Anna Memorial in hordes.
Kanniamma says that the nightmarish incident has left her traumatised forever. Ten years on, she has yet to set foot on the beach again. She has quit her fruit vending business and depends on her two sons.
“I don’t have the courage in me. Many times, I have walked up to the stalls on the roadside to buy a few items. But, I have never ventured out further since that day,” she says.