Sunday, February 8, 2015

Dec 30, 2004; a post on; revisiting the tsunami of Dec 2004

Dec 30, 2004

Dear Pankaj /Friends
Let me take a breath before I start writing. Yes I am very much fine, still in Andaman Islands and was moved to see your email and concern regarding my whereabouts.  Situation is pretty bad here and rumors and some predictions have made life miserable here - however things are beyond normal.  Well on that disastrous Sunday, was in Wandoor research base. I woke up around 6.30 am and was having tea and was planning fixing stuff for new research vessel. And suddenly I realized the windows have started shaking. To confirm I asked my assistant Albert to come out and see and by that time the shake was becoming massive and I shouted earthquake and asked him to move out of house. As soon as we came out, the whole earth was shaking and it made me us difficult to stand. Soon I realsied that it is very unsafe to stand around house and trees and we went in open space close to sea (my house in the islands is on sea shore but its on the base of a hillock!). This earthquake lasted for more than one minute, however I had experience the earthquake in Solapur in 1994-95??, but this was terrible. Huge cracks were all over. After few minutes some forest people came out and we chatted about stuff. Soon after some time I realized that being an island, tsunami would follow earthquake. Well with that thought I came back in house and started assessing the damage. As soon as came into the house, I realized that I had forgotten to unchain the doggies. (I have five dogs who gives me company in remote place and guard house and boat). I came in hall and saw all diving air cylinders were all around, book shelves were fallen and papers and books were all over. Bed room wall was broken and room was all covered with cement slabs. While inspecting I asked Albert to keep an eye on water level rise and within a moment he shouted water is crossing road with all force. I felt that it may be worst soon. My house is around 15 meter from sea-level so I thought It would give me few minutes to take out necessary things from the houses. I unchained all dogs, took laptop and rushed to the top of hillock and from there started going to jetty. By that time sea had shown its power. Several boats were on the road. Houses, shops and the marine national park interpretation center was flooded. Sea water was everywhere and people had fled within a few minutes.  Several people started getting in to water and trying to take belongings from their house. I was sure that water will start going down soon with great speed. I shouted at them and warned them for not going into water. Thank god people took me seriously and came on the top of hillock. Then the real game started. Water started going down and started taking all with it. It took several fishing boats, tourist boats and even the wooden jetty was on its way in water. The speed of water was so high that I could see the channel between the island. Water again started rising. This continued for whole day. The water level was pretty high, I couldn't understand why? As water would take time to adjust. But the third rise was pretty high. However the Tsunami was pretty slow in this part of the island and its mainly due to the corals, mangroves and the depth gradient. I been saying in all seminar over the years that the existence of the island is on the existence of coral reefs and mangroves. As these animals and plants reduce the impact of waves during monsoon (these islands experience seven to eight months monsson). Havoc was every where. Well, at the moment I am surrounded with tribes from Car nicobar and taking information from them as I am leaving tomorrow for car nicobar for relief operation as most of the government aid is around one place and just now I was told by these tribes that lots of ppl are in deep forest and no one is going there. These ppl are starving. Though I am shocked but I have to be pretent to be brave as I have responsibility of several ppl. While stuff was happening in Wandoor. I had made up my mind that my research vessel is gone for forever and was worried about my staff who were in boat. My boat is my dream but made up my mind that have to work hard again to get another boat for research. Well then started going to port Blair and on the way saw the devastation of tsunami. The water level was still high and had taken its toll all over low lying areas. Several huge ships had broken their ropes and were in open seas and even some boats were sitting comfortably on the jetty. While seeing that I was thinking about my boat and when I reached chatham jetty, police stopped me saying that bridge is weak and its dangerous to go to the harbour areas, I tried to tell them that my two staffs are their and I must go there and see what is the situation. He still tried to resist me and then I fired him and gave him lecture and then he mellowed down. When I reached there I couldn't see the boat where it was supposed to be and I was more worried about my staff. Suddenly some one came from back and said Sir! OH my .. He was one my staff Keybow and I took a breath and asked him about Porichh (another staff) and he said he is safe and again I took another breath and asked about the boat and he told me that boat is safe and it was kind of miracle... then I looked at sea and said in my mind that I cant ask more than this from you (my belief is that ocean is my religion and god. believe it or not! Then news started pouring in from nicobar groups of island. Devastation was just unbelievable. Well then I spoke to office ppl in mumbai and asked for sending stuff for helping ppl and couldn't believe when stuff started coming from next day. After the disaster when I called to my mother and in office I was advised to come back immediately. However I preferred to stay back as it would have set wrong example and I wouldn't have been happy for that action. Yesterday distributed clothes, bedsheets, jackets (this time of the year its pretty cold and its unusual), footwears, medicines, toys for kids and ration, vegetables among people in wandoor (several of them were nicobaris). I was speechless as most of them are from car nicobar (the worst affected area in the islands) and I had tought them scuba diving. Well most of the settlers have paniced and started going back to mainland. Some people instead of giving helping hands to the needy ppl were just playing the role of audience. I felt sad about their attitude. Then the game of rumors, panicking and running around started. I could see that administration was just confused and didn't have crises management plan and trying to do something. But I was moved to see the help coming from mainland and from international level. Though lot to do but have to concentrate my effort in nicobar. I was just told by the people  who just arrived from car nicobar about the situation. Several ppl are still in forest and are injured, without food and water supply and administration haven't reached yet there. So tomorrow I will collect stuff coming from mumbai and will proceed to car nicobar by Indian air force plane and will try to reach deep inside forest to the ppl and assess the situation and give the stuff to them or get back to them again with necessary stuff. Well now I guess for next couple of months atleast have to concentrate on the relief stuff, however I am aware that we need to focus on long term solution for the problem faced by ppl than day to day stuff and hope that we will able to do some thing. I must say that now ppl of Andaman have realized that ocean makes difference in their life whether its good or bad and for that we need to respect the ocean. Now I hope in future local politicians, administration consider the fact and don't overrule the environment. Well that's now at the moment from myside and will keep you all posted. As far as environment is concerned, well I am sure the population of salt water crocodiles, dugongs and corals have seen severe damage. This is the peak time of turtle nesting in the islands and I am sure that there must be severe damage due to the tsunami. But for the moment need to concentrate on the people issue then latter I am aware that got to work on these issue so hectic time ahead.  Before I say bye I must thank you for being with me in this difficult time
and making me more responsible in what I do. 
Thanks a lot 
Sarang (Kulkarni)

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