Hyderabad, Dec. 26: For thousands of coastal Andhra Pradesh residents, an auspicious sea bath on a full moon day of Dhanurmasam turned into a death trap.
Most of those who went for the holy dip in the Bay of Bengal off Munginapudi beach, near Machilipatnam, in the early hours were swallowed by a 5-metre tsunami.
Officials have put the number of dead ' based on the number of bodies that were washed ashore ' at 65, but the toll on this beach alone, some 325 km from Hyderabad, is expected to be nearly thrice the official figure.
Revenue officials and police said they were drained of all emotion and energy to handle the catastrophe. 'I am virtually speechless at the calamity. Men, women, children and the aged have died. This reminds me of the 1977 cyclone in which people were swallowed by tidal waves in more or less the same way,' said B. Veeranna, a revenue official.
Nine-year-old Bhuvaneswari's parents are missing. She watched them go for the dip and waited for them to surface. But Padmavati, 27, and Mallikarjuna, 35, were trapped in the swirl. The weeping child caught the attention of the police and revenue officials. 'Please save my daddy and my mummy. They were taken away by the waves,' she told them.
The 10-km-long beach, with belongings of the thousands of devotees scattered all around, has become a happy hunting ground for petty thieves.
As rescue operations are afoot, navy helicopters, mounted police and coastgaurd boats are scanning the coastline for bodies consumed by the demonic sea. Transport has been rushed to areas where bodies have been spotted, said B.R. Meena, the relief in-charge for Krishna district.
In Vijayawada, tremors jolted many out of sleep. 'Our cots shook and we were woken up with a jerk as if our apartment on the third floor was nose-diving to the ground,' said newly-wed Rudrarani, a resident of a highrise.
Within hours, most residents of the coastal town had come out on the roads discussing their harrowing experiences. 'Tremors hit Vijayawada town more than four times,' said municipal commissioner Usha Rani.
The coastal towns of Vadarevu, Ongole, Singarayakonda and Pakala in Prakasham district are mute in the face of the tragedy that has fallen on their fisherfolk. 'In my family, all the men went fishing last night. I do not know what would have become of them,' says 29-year-old Padmavati, a resident of Mypadu hamlet, from where 200 fishermen are missing.
At Kavali town in Nellore, waves demolished a 60-year-old lighthouse. Most aqua ponds and backwater sources have been polluted, with sea water gushing in and damaging the shrimp harvest.
Revenue officials said three tremors hit Tirupati, causing panic among those who stood in long queues for a darshan of the deity. Even priests came out of the sanctum for a while.