The 2004 tsunami was nothing compared to the cyclone, says a village elder

The tsunami memorial in the Veerampattinam fishing village lies half buried in sand, a testament to the destruction wrought by Cyclone Thane on the small hamlet on Friday.

As soon as one enters the village, one gets a sense of the loss faced by the people, with all houses being empty and occupants sitting outside with their belongings trying to assess the damage and salvage what they can.

“The tsunami was nothing compared to the cyclone. The howling winds will haunt me for the rest of my life,” said Anbarasan, a village elder.

“At no time do I remember seeing anything similar,” he says. “In 1972, there was a cyclone and a couple of huts were washed away. A few years ago, there was another, but the havoc created by Thane is unparalleled. If not for our local deity, the entire population of our village would have perished,” he said.

The villagers shudder as they describe the night before the cyclone. Early, on Thursday night it was business as usual for most of the families who live in this hamlet. Since they had been warned not to go out into sea, the entire village was up till midnight when the winds picked up. Around 2 a.m., they realized that the wind speed was increasing, and so the village took shelter in the local temple.

Those who were unable to walk were carried to the temple and by about 3 a.m. when the cyclone unleashed its fury, all the people from the village were inside the temple, huddling together to protect themselves from the winds. For the next five hours, nobody moved as they sat there silently praying for their lives as their houses and belongings were destroyed in the wind and rain.

Throughout Friday nobody in the village had anything to eat, since the access road was damaged and virtually nothing remained in the houses, according to Parasu, a fisherman.

“Late Friday evening, when the rain abated a bit, the people started venturing out of the temple to try and assess the damage but nothing was visible in the darkness. It is only today (Saturday) that we are beginning to see what little we have left,” he said.

Stuck in the temple

A few houses that were behind a small coconut grove were partially saved and their structures remain intact, but otherwise even cement houses did not survive. The interiors of the houses were filled with mud carried by the wind and virtually everything was still wet. With no electricity and nowhere else to go, the villagers were all forced to stay in the temple. They would continue to stay there for a week at least, they said.

The beach sports a transformed look, as the sea has advanced some 200 metres inland, according to the fishermen, who are waiting for it to recede before thinking of returning to their livelihood. What used to be a road leading to the beach has now been covered with sand.

Many of the fishing boats that were near the coastline have been thrown to the far end of the newly extended beach, with many of them shattering on nearby trees. The surface has been levelled and the only thing that can be seen is the top of the tsunami memorial sticking out of the sand.