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Curse of the sea eclipses full moon
Empty boats return to a wailing wasteland

Hyderabad, Dec. 26: Over 200 people were killed across the 975-km shoreline of Andhra Pradesh as tsunamis as high as 3-4 metres lashed the country's eastern coast.

Spots of tourism and brisk fish and shrimp trade from Nellore district in the state's south to Srikakulam in the northeast were pictures of devastation.

More than 1,300 fishermen were missing and 25 fishing hamlets were swept away, mainly in the worst-hit Krishna, Guntur and Prakasham of the nine districts affected. Over 15,000 people living in low-lying areas along the coast were evacuated to safer places.

The worst disaster occurred on Manginapudi beach near Machilipatnam, about 350 km from Hyderabad, where people had come for a holy dip on the full-moon day towards the end of the Hindu calendar. Hundreds were swept away.

Police and officials were busy pulling in the bodies washed back by the sea. A 60-year-old lighthouse collapsed at Kavali in Nellore.

The state government woke up to the disaster only in the afternoon as it was busy explaining to the media the controversy over the body of P.V. Narasimha Rao which was not fully burnt.

As thousands of empty fishing boats were washed back to the shore and fisherwomen wailed along the coastline, chief minister Y.S. Rajasekhar Reddy made an aerial survey in the three worst-hit districts.

Reddy said the Prime Minister assured him of all help. Union home minister Shivraj Patil, too, surveyed the damage in Andhra and Tamil Nadu and assured both of the Centre's support.

Reddy announced an ex gratia of Rs 1 lakh for the family of each of the dead and sanctioned 25 kg of rice and other cooking ingredients.

The armed services have been deployed for rescue and relief operations.

'We have already commenced relief operations. But we are making a buffer (stocking food, water and medicines) also to meet any contingency,' relief commissioner Ashutosh Mishra said.

The administration is keeping a vigil across the coast as tsunamis are projected to last for the next 24 hours.

Water entered the space centre at Sriharikota in Nellore but there were no reports of damage, Prakash Reddy, a state bureaucrat said.

The centre officials were tightlipped but the district administration said water reached the control station.

Telugu Desam Party chief N. Chandrababu Naidu called for declaration of national calamity by the Centre. He urged his party workers to extend support for relief measures.

The last time waves took a heavy toll of the Andhra coast was on November 19, 1977, when 2,000 people had died. 'Unlike in 1977, we are ready to tackle the curse of the sea. We are prepared for the worst this time,' state revenue minister D. Prasada Rao said.

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