Everything in the room swayed and moved in different directions for about five minutes. This was our experience of the Tsunami that struck on 26th December 2004. Among the people were one month old babies and young mothers. They did not want to be separated from their families and refused to come into town where we could have given them better care. The crowd did not want to leave the Sisters either, even though the Government offered them their schools. They felt more secure with us.
Sr. Teresa with two Superiors of Karaikal and I went down the coast. We visited a good number of villages, talking to the victims. Some had lost as many as seven members of their families, many of them children or mothers who were trying to save their little ones. The men who were fishing elsewhere were saved. The wave came up so silently that people were hardly aware of the black water that engulfed them, churned them around and took them kilometers forward and then dragged them into the sea. The next wave brought them back on to the land dead or seriously injured. Some had the good fortune of clinging on to a tree or something else that turned out to be their lifeline. We went looking for orphans and found that mostly children had died.
In Nagappattinam, it was horrifying to see huge boats and ships sitting on verandahs, or even on roof tops. These boats can cost between one to 15 lakhs. The different types of nets for various fish cost about one lakh each. Those who have lost all cannot start life again without boats and equipment. Bodies are pinned under debris and the air smells foul. People are huddled together away from the coast.
We went on to Velangani, it was deserted. On 26th, the people had left the church after the Tamil Mass and gone down to the beach. Others entered for the Malayalam Mass. The first wave mixed the people with sheets of roofing, cutting them up. Photos of the dead look terrible and not all are exposed yet – many people are there for those who are searching for their loved ones. The water went up to the Church steps and then divided. Those who were in its way or ran out of the Church were swept out. They found more than 2000 bodies. Even after ten days, they found some bodies that had to be cremated because they were too highly decomposed. The brick shops in front of the church stand silent and empty. Nothing remains of all those on the shore. The water level has risen and there is no beach. We met a priest, an eyewitness who gave us gruesome details. We visited the Diocesan home for the aged – an absolute mess. It reminded me of Cheyur. They were able to save most of the inmates.
This evening there was a meeting with the Social Welfare Board, from Pondicherry. We will take in all the orphans below 10. At least they will be safe with us. We will also accept old people. The Sisters are doing their best to co-operate in the Relief work.
Sr. Bernadette Pinto
Sisters of St. Joseph of Cluny
*Note : 1 Lakh =100,000 Rupees = Au$3027.32