The neighbouring Kanyakumari district, with its bitter experience of the 2004 tsunami, when it lost thousands of lives within minutes, reacted lazily to the tsunami warning this time with fishermen in the 15-odd hamlets close to the shore simply moving to the elevated parts of the villages.
The tsunami alert given by the official machinery did not trigger panic in the coastal hamlets west of Kanyakumari, right from Kovalam to Neerodi, which all lost a good number of lives to the killer waves on December 26, 2004.
Even the fishermen of villages such as East and West Manakkudi, Azhikkaal and Colachel, all witness to the catastrophe when the giant waves temporarily altered the shoreline of these villages in December 2004, did not panic and refused to leave their hamlets. After spending a few hours in the ‘safe zone', they returned homes after satisfying themselves that everything was normal.
While all shops in Kanyakumari put up the shutters around 3 p.m., following the alert, the fishermen of Chinna Muttom harbour moved the mechanised boats deep into the sea in an attempt to save the vessels.
The giant waves had smashed more than 40 boats, each worth about Rs.45 lakh, on the shore in 2004.
Ferry service suspended
Tourists enjoying the beauty of the Vivekananda Memorial were moved back to the shore in boats and ferry service to the rock memorial was suspended around 3 p.m.
While the tsunami warning triggered panic among the parents of students in Tuticorin, forcing schools to abruptly wind up for the day, the fishermen of the port city, who partly witnessed the nature's fury in 2004, were seen loitering on the shore.
Victoria Extension Road, situated at a relatively safe distance from the sea, witnessed a traffic jam owing to vehicles mindlessly parked on the road by parents who had come schools to pick their children following the alert. The warning had no impact on those standing on the shore.
The auctioning of fish on the Therespuram beach went on as usual around 3 p.m. with traders from various parts of Tuticorin and Kerala vying with each other to clinch the deal in their favour even as the tsunami warning was flashed by satellite television channels. Though they came to know about the “impending danger” from photographers, who made a beeline for the beach, they refused to move away.
“Nothing will happen here… Let's continue our business and the auction,” S. James, a fish trader remarked, when a couple of his friends from Kerala started looking at the sea repeatedly as the news broke.
Even the residents of Inigo Nagar, whose houses are located close to the shoreline, did not leave their homes though the waves advanced a bit by the evening.
It was business as usual in the coastal hamlets of Tirunelveli district. The only difference one could witness after the alert was issued was the sight of fibreglass boats and nets being moved to safety. A team of officials led by Cheranmahadevi Sub-Collector Rohini Ramdas visited some of the villages to assess the situation.
“The sea did not behave unusually this evening though tsunami alert had been given. It was quite normal,” said S.V. Antony of Uvari.
Special Correspondent from Cuddalore writes:
Having experienced the tsunami and cyclone ‘Thane', the alert did not create any panic in Cuddalore district. Though there was a sense of alarm in some pockets, especially along the 54-km long coastline, the general mood in the district was calm with residents taking necessary precautionary measures to meet any eventuality.
The bitter experience gained from the earlier devastations had taught them not to lose their nerve. Soon after news about the quake trickled in, the fishing community acted swiftly, alerting over cell phones all those in mid-sea.
Those preparing to set sail in the evening aborted their voyage. At Thazhanguda women waited on the shore for their menfolk to return and on sighting their boats heaved a sigh of relief. A section of fishermen who were seen playing cards opined that another tsunami was unlikely. They put forth three points in support of their views: the waves were quite weak; there was no marked shift in wind direction; there was no change in the colour of the sea.
District Revenue Officer S. Rajendran, in-charge of the district administration (Collector Rajendra Ratnoo is on leave) told The Hindu that the entire coast was put on alert. Adequate warning was issued to the coastal community to stay in a state of preparedness.
Superintendent of Police P. Pakalavan said security personnel had fanned out to the coastal areas to keep people informed. Fire Service and Rescue Department personnel went around the coastal villages issuing alerts over the public address system.