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TN: Doomsday fears linger among 2004 tsunami survivors

TN: Doomsday fears linger among 2004 tsunami survivors

Fear of the unknown continues to raise its head if and when there is news of a possible disaster.

Nagapattinam (Tamil Nadu): Eight years after tsunami struck the Tamil Nadu coast killing thousands, fear of the unknown continues to raise its head if and when there is news of a possible disaster. This time, in Nagapattinam district, many felt that the world was coming to an end on Dec 21 -- based on a Mayan calendar prediction. "There was an unknown fear in the days preceding Dec 21. Even children used to ask whether the world would come to an end," said N Dhanalakshmi of NGO Social Need Education and Human Awareness.

On Dec 26, 2004, a devastating tsunami triggered by an undersea quake off Sumatra in Indonesia hit Tamil Nadu's coast in Nagapattinam, Cuddalore, Chennai and Kanyakumari. The waves claimed around 8,000 lives -- children, women and men. Some 6,100 died in Nagapattinam alone. Over 230,000 were killed in the tsunami in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India, Thailand and the Maldives. Expectedly, fishermen along Tamil Nadu's winding coast ventured into the sea with reluctance Dec 21 this year.

"Parents were also reluctant to send their children to schools taht day due to tsunami fears. I had to comfort many parents to send their wards to school," pre-school teacher S. Lakshmi told IANS here. "The fear was intense. Many children did not eat properly the previous day," added Valarmathi, working with an NGO. "We have seen tsunami... slowly fear crept in," Roopa, a Class 12 student in Annai Sathya orphanage, told IANS.

In March last year, TV visuals of a tsunami in Japan reminded people in Tamil Nadu of that fateful day in 2004. Ahead of tsunami's eighth anniversary, the doomsday prediction for Dec 21 rekindled people's dormant fears. Nagapattinam had borne most of the brunt of the 2004 disaster. Yet, life has moved on with many tsunami-affected students continuing their education.

According to Lakshmi, many women have since completed their graduation and post-graduation studies. "The awareness level among women has gone up as many became widows and had to decide on family matters on their own," she said. Valarmathi lost her husband to the waves. The responsibility of running the family fell on her. "I decided to work. I started doing a survey for an NGO and consoled many women who lost their husbands or fathers," she said.

The tsunami not only turned upside down lives of many fishing folks but also changed their attitude to life. Eight years later, many, including fishermen, look out for doles from anyone visiting the area for the first time, V Kumaravelu of Akkaraipetti village and an advisor to Bay of Bengal Fish Workers Union, told IANS. "Prior to the tsunami, fishermen would not extend their hands for doles. Now they do not think twice," he said.

Kumaravelu said that before the tsunami, rough seas did not deter fishermen. But now, they do not venture into the sea if it is a bit rough. While the catch has come down after 2004, fishermen said some of the fish varieties are not there post tsunami. Also, as their housing colonies are built at a good distance from the coast, fishermen now spend on commuting to the sea front while the safety of their fishing equipment on the shore worry them.

first published:December 26, 2012, 10:44 IST