The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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A leaping wave, a void
- Morning stroll on Marina beach tears family asunder

At age 80, chances are, Pronob Pal wouldn't have bothered much about the tsunami. But there is nothing he is more painfully aware of today than the tragic force of the harbour wave.

On Monday afternoon, voice choked, the octogenarian recounted how the tsunami in Chennai had claimed his wife Bela Rani, 73.

'The waves were gradually breaking around us as we walked along the sea, down Marina Beach on Sunday. Bela was beside me' Suddenly, a wave, nearly 25 feet tall, leapt out of the sea and came crashing down.

'All I can remember is Bela trying to hold on to me. And then it was all over,' said Pal, granddaughter Piuli clinging to him at their Sadananda Road residence, off Kalighat, on Monday evening.

Pronob Pal and wife Bela Rani had left Calcutta on December 12 to visit chartered accountant son Pallab, daughter-in-law Ratna and granddaughter Piuli, in Bangalore.

The family was then to tour Chennai, Pondicherry and Kanyakumari. The elderly couple was to return to Calcutta in mid-January.

But that was not to be. After arriving in Chennai late on Saturday, the five set out for a walk on Marina beach on Sunday morning. 'Suddenly, we were hit by these waves, bigger than anything one can imagine, and my whole family was swept away,' recounted Ratna.

Her first instinct was to save her child. 'At a distance, I noticed a few men dragging a girl out of the swirling waters. Thank god, that was my Piu.'

Next, she spied a hand held above the waves that had overrun the beach. 'That's my husband, please help me save him,' she cried out. One man, a stranger, stepped forward and dragged out Pallab.

Pronob Pal was safe, with minor cuts and bruises, but there was no sign of his wife. The next episode of the Pals' horror holiday unfolded at Chennai General Hospital.

'We looked through the heaps of bodies that were turning up. Finally, we found Ma (her mother-in-law) in the morgue,' cried Ratna.

The body of Bela Rani Pal was flown in by a morning flight from Chennai. She was cremated on Monday evening.

Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, on Monday, appealed to tourists in Digha, Shankarpur, Bakkhali, Namkhana and Sagar island to return to the mainland following an alert from the Centre on the possibility of more quakes in the near future.

'People from Bengal, now stranded in Tamil Nadu and in the Andamans are safe, but they must return to the mainland,' said Bhattacharjee.

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