16 Years Since the Tsunami, But the Scars Are Still Fresh
A lot has changed since the 2004 tsunami, but even today, people tremble with fear looking at the sea.
(This story was first published on 26 December 2017. It has been republished from The Quint’s archives on the anniversary of the deadly tsunami that hit Chennai in 2004.)
Boats docked at the harbour, crumbling buildings, memorials at every junction, candle stands placed in front of every church – it has been 16 years since the treacherous tsunami swept through Nagapattinam in Tamil Nadu, throwing life out of kilter.
Even today, people live in fear of the ocean.
The main livelihood of the town is fishing, but since 2004, the thought of going out to sea amidst the roaring waves puts a chill in their bones.
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Nagapattinam bore the brunt of the disaster in 2004 with a death toll of over 6,400 and tens of thousands displaced.
Forty-five-year old Roja was washed away in the tsunami but somehow managed to swim back to safety. Today, she hardly goes to the beach.
“My sister’s hair was stuck in a tree and she struggled and died. I cried for help – there were so many people around but no one to help. Her dress was torn off. They buried her along with 80 people in a hole. I gave a new dress for her but they told me to get clothes for all, otherwise they cannot dress only my sister. I dropped the saree and ran back home.”Roja
Helped poured in from a number of NGOs and government agencies, and today almost all the people in tsunami-hit districts are living in decent conditions. But every time there is even the slightest rumour that a tsunami will strike, the traumatised people flee from their houses to the outskirts of town.
But the tsunami also brought out the good in people. Some parents who lost their children went on to adopt the kids orphaned by the tsunami.
Every year on 26th December, nobody goes fishing. Everyone lights up a candle praying for the lives that were lost at sea.
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