Railway has lost one of its last living links to the tragedy
: R. Sunderaraj, an unfazed railway officer, who stood guard as Station Master in the Danushkodi Railway Station hours before the devastating cyclonic storm that destroyed the town on the night of December 22, 1964, passed away at the age of 80 years.
With his death at his relocated house at K.K. Nagar in Madurai on Wednesday morning, the Southern Railway has lost one of its last living links to the nightmarish tragedy that destroyed the railway station and washed away the incoming “Boat Mail”, killing all the 115 people onboard.
Mr Sunderaraj turned out to be the last Station Master of Danushkodi Railway Station and among those few, who survived the severest natural calamity.
After serving the dayshift on December 22, 1964, he returned home in the evening, little realising that it would be his last day of his service in the station.
Survived by his wife S. Gladys, two sons, three daughters, four grand daughters and three grand sons, Mr Sunderaraj died of old age after brief illness, Godwin Nova, his son said.
Recalling the horrific night and the most unforgettable moment of their life, Ms Gladys Sunderaraj, talking to The Hindu over phone, said they were living in a house close to the shore, near a Church when the cyclonic storm crashed into the tiny town on the fateful night.
The haunting memories are fresh, she said. As they sat for dinner around 9 p.m., their five-year-old elder son looked terrified and refused to have dinner. He went to bed without dinner only to wake them up half past midnight. He looked terribly frightened. There were gusty winds and her husband noticed water seeping into the house through the main door.
Her husband tried in vain to stop it by placing a gunny bag. When he opened the door, water gushed into the house and soon things started floating. “We left all our things and started walking towards the railway station, carrying their three children — a five-year-old son, a three-year-old daughter and three-month-old daughter,” Ms Gladys recalled.
She said they walked for hours in neck-deep water, carrying their children on shoulders and reached the railway station around 4 30 a.m. Only later, her husband came to know that the Boat Mail coming from Madras Egmore (now Chennai Egmore) was washed away on being hit by a huge tidal wave.
(The tragedy came to light only after 48 hours when the railway headquarters issued a bulletin based on the information given by the Marine Superintendent, Mandapam). They stayed in the station for a week before they were shifted to Mandapam in a ship, she said. Their three-year-old daughter Shanthi, who fell sick in the tragedy, died after they moved to Tuticorin, she said.
Mr Sunderaraj joined the Southern Railway on April 16, 1956 at St. Thomas Mount near Chennai, before serving in Tiruvarur and Ariyalur. He was posted as Station Master in Danushkodi in November 1964 and hardly served there for a month. Hailing from Thoppur in Tirunelveli district, he retired as Senior Goods Supervisor in Tuticorin Railway Station till he attained the age of superannuation on May 31, 1991.