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Abnormally swollen, river gulps hawker

Dec. 26: The giant waves unleashed by the Sumatra quake claimed a life in Bengal and sent ripples through land and water bodies across the state.

A crippled hawker was sucked into the Jalangi river in Nadia which suddenly turned turbulent this morning.

The families of nearly 1,000 fishermen who went to the high seas from the Kakdwip, Namkhana, Raidighi, Sagar Island and Kultali areas of South 24-Parganas are keeping their fingers crossed. They were out of wireless range and the administration could not ask them to return, district officials said.

The administration in East Midnapore has contacted over wireless the fishermen in most of the 2,500 trawlers that went to high seas from the district and urged them to return. The commandant of the Coast Guard in Bengal, Randeep Kumar Wadhwa, said one of their ships had already sailed to locate any trawler that might be lost.

In Nadia, 52-year-old hawker Manoranjan Biswas, who had lost one leg in an accident many years ago, went to bathe in the Jalangi river at Jatrapur a little before 6.30 am.

Witnesses on the bank near Krishnagar in Nadia, 85 km from Calcutta, said Manoranjan drowned as the water in the river suddenly rose to about four feet above the normal level.

'This is the first time that I have seen Jalangi river looking so intimidating. The river near Krishnagar is not very deep. When the river swelled we thought something abnormal has happened,' said 60-year-old Sunil Biswas who was taking a walk at that time. For the next few minutes, the river was very turbulent, he said.

A fisherman rowing back to the bank saw Manoranjan ' the only earning member of his family ' struggling to keep afloat but could not save him because of the swirling waters. Manoranjan's body was later recovered.

As news of the tsunami in other parts of the country and Manoranjan's death reached Jatrapur village, people panicked and women began to ululate and pray to God for mercy. They called priests and organised prayers on the river bank.

'I think we have done something wrong and God is punishing us. We heard that many people have died in other parts of the country. We were scared seeing the swirling waters of Jalangi,' said Arati Saha, a villager who offered puja on the river bank.

District magistrate Rajesh Pandey said an inquiry had been ordered to find out if Manoranjan's death had been caused by a natural calamity.

In Burdwan, Howrah, Hooghly and Murshidabad districts, people felt mild tremors and rushed to see the swelling waters of rivers, including the Rupnarayan, the Damodar and the Ganga, and village ponds. In Burdwan's Katwa, ferries stopped plying across the Ganga because operators thought that a sudden high tide had come.

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