NAGAPATTINAM: Thirteen years ago, on this day, the sea devoured the coastal district leaving in its wake a trail of mass destruction and painful memories. Nagapattinam has borne the brunt of nature in the form of cyclones and flood in 1952, 1967, 1977, 1984, 1991 and 1993, which claimed a total of 2,500 lives.But the magnitude of the 2004 disaster was beyond anybody’s comprehension. Even as Christmas celebrations could subside came a tidal wave measuring 5 metres (16.4 feet) and the district with its 182 km of coastline fell easy target.
S Uthrapathy, a fisherman from Vizhundhamavadi, said, “Twelve people, including nine women and three kids, died. They were on the shore waiting for husbands and fathers to return. But that was not to be.”
R Vembarasi of Narasingamangalam, who lost her father in the tsunami, said, “My father Ravi used to sell tender coconuts in Velankanni and used to stay there as weekends fetch good return. On Christmas day, he left for Velankanni hoping for better prospects. He earned `2,000, but that did not mean anything to us. We recovered his body after waves drowned him. We are six sisters and struggling with our mother Kalaivani. I have completed BSc but unable to land a decent job. I work in a textile store in Nagapattinam for a salary of `1,500 per month,”
The damage to property was enormous. 44 government schools, four PHCs and a government hospital were destroyed, along with hundreds of boats and fisherfolk settlements. The Nagapattinam administration planted 2.54 lakh Casuarina saplings in Pushpavanam and Naluvedhapadhi in 2005 to protect shores from high tides. However, the saplings have not been maintained.
R Balu, headmaster, Keechankuppam Panchayat Union Middle School, recalls the horror. “It was a Sunday, and thankfully children were not in school. But many were staying close to it. Of our 425 students, 80 were killed in the tsunami.” It is another success story that the Balu managed to win back confidence of locals and the student count has been on the rise. He set up smart classrooms and improved infrastructure. “In 2013, we had 450 students and the school received the Kamarajar Award, ISO certification and Puraskar Award in 2017.”
A total of 19,736 houses were built by NGOs and government and handed over to beneficiaries. For fishermen, it is a struggle to survive as the homes are 2 km away from sea and the houses lack proper toilets.