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Tsunami death toll in India 6,400

By Our Bureau

Tsunami victims are laid to rest in a mass grave in Nagapattinam, Tamil Nadu, on Monday. In the background other bodies are being cremated. — AP

CHENNAI, DEC. 27. As southern India and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands struggled to recover from Sunday's tsunami strike, armed forces and civilian agencies took up massive rescue and relief operations, looking for survivors along the coastline and rushing food, clothes and medicines to the tens of thousands displaced. The toll has gone up to 6,400. Hundreds of bodies were found buried in the sand.

As the seawater receded, rescue teams gained access to the badly battered areas. However, in Tamil Nadu's Nagapattinam district, which accounted for 1,500 deaths, heavy rain hampered relief operations. Some parts of the district were untouched by the relief teams, resulting in complaints of neglect by the dispossessed in fishing hamlets. But in Cuddalore, another badly-affected district in the State, relief measures gathered momentum as the day wore on.

Aftershocks in the Andamans

The Andaman and Nicobar Islands, which continued to suffer from aftershocks of the quake, accounted for 3,000 deaths, most of them in the Nicobar group. Another 2,000 were reported missing. At 8.17 p.m. tonight a quake measuring 5.2 on the Richter scale hit the islands.

The number of dead in Tamil Nadu has gone up to 2,758. Neighbouring Pondicherry accounted for 377 deaths, 265 of them in Karaikal that borders Nagapattinam. The toll in Keralarose to 161 and in Andhra Pradesh to 104.

The Centre coordinated relief measures with the State Governments. Although the Andaman island was not badly affected, the Nicobar islands reported heavy casualties. The full extent of the catastrophe was not clear as the authorities in the capital, Port Blair, were struggling to establish contact with the affected areas.

The Navy and the Coast Guard were engaged in the rescue and relief operations. The India Reserve Battalion, based in Port Blair, was rushed to the Nancowrie islands. Relief material and doctors were flown out. The Defence Minister, Pranab Mukherjee, and the Congress president, Sonia Gandhi, reached Port Blair today.

Aid for Pondy

The Union Home Minister, Shivraj Patil, met the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister, Jayalalithaa, at the Secretariat and offered all Central assistance, including special financial aid. Mr. Patil also visited Pondicherry, where he announced an emergency Central assistance of Rs. 25 crores.

Tamil Nadu, he said, had suffered extensive damage, and the quantum of relief given to the State would also be in proportion to the damage. In his estimation, about 70,000 to 80,000 people have been displaced in Tamil Nadu while 30,000 have been displaced in Pondicherry.

"The situation is quite grim," he said. But the people, the State and Central Governments were capable of rising to the occasion to provide relief.

Manmohan puts off visit

The Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, has postponed his proposed trip to Tamil Nadu and other affected areas scheduled for tomorrow. Many of the bodies could not be handed over to relatives as entire families had been wiped out in some areas. Mass burial was ordered as the bodies began to pile up in government hospitals.

Relief centres have been set up in several areas, but these proved inadequate with fishing hamlets all along the Tamil Nadu coast being wiped out by the tsunami. Fishermen who survived have lost their catamarans and fishing nets and were left facing an unfriendly sea with no means of livelihood. Government buildings, educational institutions and temples and churches have been converted as makeshift shelters for the dispossessed.

Ms. Jayalalithaa, who visited the affected areas for the second day today, promised all help to the victims.

"I have come here to assure you that the Government will not let you down in this hour of crisis. All those affected will be rehabilitated," she told people in Nagercoil.

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