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Tamil Nadu - Chennai Printer Friendly Page   Send this Article to a Friend

Was relief delayed?

By V.Jayanth

CHENNAI, DEC. 27 . Either because it was the Christmas weekend or because the Government machinery was not prepared for a calamity of this magnitude, rescue and relief operations are reported to have begun rather late on Sunday.

Reports from the worst hit coastal villages in Cuddalore, Nagapattinam, Tuticorin and Nagercoil spoke of the involvement of non-government organisations, service associations and public-spirited youth in the operations more than the government agencies. But government sources said rescue operations were handled by the Defence forces, while the district administration launched massive relief work.

VVIP visits

Officials offered two explanations for the "perceived delay" in launching relief work: it took some time for the authorities to locate and identify the families genuinely affected by the tsunami, as they had taken shelter in different places; both the police and the administration were preoccupied with VVIP visits, which took valuable time in preparing bundobust and then showing the dignitary the most affected areas. They insisted that by afternoon, the `operation rescue and relief' was firmly in place.

Another issue that is being raised by the affected people in the districts is the "inadequacy" of the police force, first to contain the crowds that surged towards the shores and then to provide protection to the homeless. The stark contrast between the situation in Chennai and, say, Cuddalore or Nagapattinam was obvious. In the city, the police were mobilised in full strength to keep the curious crowds out of the beach. Though the police did not succeed in full measure, the Marina and Elliot's beaches were cordoned off by evening and made out of bounds till this morning. Similarly, these stretches, even of the roads, were closed to the public this evening, following reports that there would be "after shocks", and possibly another tsunami.

Representatives of service organisations say a disaster management plan was very much in place, but was apparently not implemented in full. "The situation was different from a flood. Most of the dwellings had been wiped out along with many bodies. The survivors were not in one place and could not be easily mobilised because they were anxiously looking for family and friends," a city NGO official said.

More than the relief work, the NGO and volunteers were more concerned with the fishing hamlets that were not reached till this morning. This was particularly true in the case of Nagapattinam district, where hundreds of bodies had either been washed ashore or were lying scattered on streets. The villages began to stink and volunteers found it difficult even to transport the bodies to other places. Mass burials were the order of the day. Being fishing villages, it was difficult to find a family, which had not lost at least one member. But there were whole families that had been washed away, with no one even to identify the bodies.

Today, medical teams began fanning out to the coastal villages. The Union Health Minister, Anbumani Ramadoss, has planned to visit Nagapattinam district with special medical teams and medicine on Tuesday. State health officials are trying their best to take preventive measures to check the outbreak of any epidemic.

But two days after the worst and most unexpected tragedy struck Tamil Nadu, questions are still being raised about the efficacy of a disaster management plan even in a State that is known for its efficient administration and relief management. Now that the Chief Minister, Jayalalithaa, has completed her visit to the affected areas, officials expect the relief work to go into top gear. But there are more VVIP visits in the offing.

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