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Tsunami leaves 131 dead in Chennai, suburbs

By Our Chennai Bureau

CHENNAI, DEC. 26. The tsunami that hit the coast in Chennai left an unprecedented 131 dead on Sunday. This included four from the northern suburb of Ennore. Most of the dead including children were fisherfolk.

At least four of the rest were of those who came for early morning walk along the beachfront.

In the fishing hamlets, when the water swell came in, several of the fisherfolk died in their sleep. Some of the children playing in the beachfront were also swept away.

In all, the three major government hospitals here received the bodies in what seemed an unending row, of the young and the old; men, women and children. They all perished in the massive tide that swept away chunks of land, houses and huts, along with belongings, as also vehicles parked on the beach.

Nearly 65 bodies came to the Government Royapettah Hospital, while at the Government General Hospital, 40 bodies arrived. The other bodies went to the Stanley hospital.

The tsunami caused immense damage to property from the north Chennai's Ennore-Tiruvottiyur-Royapuram coast up to Kalpakkam, 60 km south of the city.

The day itself began in an unusual fashion.

Around 6-30 a.m., hundreds of thousands of people woke up feeling the tremors and an aftershock. Thousands panicked and left home, especially those living in multi-storey apartments or Slum Clearance Board tenements.

People rushed out of tenements and apartments in Vyasarpadi, Mattankuppam, Ayodhya Kuppam, or the posh Adyar, T. Nagar and Besant Nagar areas.

By 7-30 a.m. the first wave of the tsunami came in. A wall of water rose from the Bay of Bengal, smashed its way into the city, flooding coastal areas.

The worst-affected were hamlets in Santhome and Mylapore.

Edwin (24) one of the kuppam boys who survived because he could swim said: "I was exercising on the beach with a few others. Suddenly we saw the water come very fast. The younger children began running toward the Kannagi statue. As they were children they ran fast. My karate master was struggling. I tried to help him and his son. Just when I was halfway to the statue a huge wave hit my chest. Then another went over me. I held on to the two men but I saw the three children who were almost near the statue being washed away."

K. Pugazhendi, a sound engineer who lives behind the housing board flats in Srinivasapuram in Pattinampakkam in a hut, almost rescued his 11-month-old daughter, K. Nikitha. "I had just taken her into my arms. I was afraid for my wife. Before I could do anything, a wave came into my house and took her away."

J. Anuradha (22), bound for the United States next month for higher studies, had given in to the demands of her niece, M. Varshita (5) to take her for a walk from her aunt's house in Triplicane. While the three who went along escaped, these two girls were washed away. It was not until almost 1 p.m. that Varshita's mother was informed. Her father came to know of it about 12.30 p.m. The family members who came there said, "We are trying to find a way to tell the child's parents."

Harrowing tales of lass and family tragedy repeated in the other hospitals.

The Finance Minister, C. Ponnaiyan, and the PWD Minister, O. Paneerselvam, visited the affected areas, along with fire service personnel.

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