The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Relief rush wrecks roster

The devastating effect of tsunami and the disruptive force of December fog toyed with flight and rail schedules on Wednesday.

At Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose International Airport, with tourists flooding in from Port Blair, the authorities were forced to reschedule several flights on other routes to cope with the emergency.

Indian Airlines (IA) operated 11 flights to Port Blair ' seven from Calcutta and four from Chennai ' to evacuate 1,117 tourists stranded on the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.

'This is the highest number of passengers evacuated in a single day from Port Blair since Sunday morning,' confirmed an IA spokesperson.

Jet Airways operated three flights to Port Blair on Wednesday, bringing back stranded passengers. The airlines also carried relief material, including food, water, medicine and tents, to the tsunami-ravaged islands.

From the day of the tragedy, IA flights have managed to evacuate 3,000 people from the islands. With evacuation pressure relenting, the airlines will now operate three flights to Port Blair ' two from Calcutta and one from Chennai.

The extra flights to the islands took a heavy toll on other routes from Calcutta on Wednesday. 'We had to reschedule and combine flights on several routes to evacuate tourists in the Andamans. The Boeing 737s plied to Port Blair were replaced by Airbus 320 and ATR craft,' an IA official said.

The Calcutta-Agartala flight, scheduled to leave Dum Dum airport at 6.55 am, left at 3.30 pm. The Boeing 737 Calcutta-Chennai flight, scheduled for 8.30 am, was replaced by an Airbus 320 and left Calcutta at 12.30 pm. Officials said the Calcutta-Bagdogra flight to depart at 2.45 pm was postponed till Thursday morning.

Jet Airways officials said flights on the Calcutta-Mumbai, Calcutta-Agartala and Calcutta-Delhi routes had to be rescheduled.

Amidst all the chaos, there was no escaping the tragedy that had swept the islands when the body of former chief judicial magistrate of Car Nicobar, Suresh Kumar Joshi, reached Calcutta on an IA flight.

Joshi had rushed out of his room after the earthquake and was injured after a tree fell on him. Later, the room he was taken to was submerged.

Several judges paid tribute to the former chief judicial magistrate at the airport and his body was taken in an ambulance to his house at Jagaddal, North 24-Parganas (picture above by Amit Datta). Two pet dogs of Joshi were killed in the disaster. The third survived the ordeal and was brought back on the same flight.

At the opposite end of town, a passenger-cum-cargo vessel left Hooghly Dock and Port Engineers (HDPE), Nazirganj branch, in Howrah, on Wednesday for the islands. The Andaman authorities had commissioned the vessel in 2000 and it had taken four years to build the ship.

Labour unions at the docks insisted that relief material be sent on the ship setting sail. 'It was illegal to send cargo on it, but following the strident demands, we decided to send relief material like food and medicine,' said Subrata Bhowmick, HDPE managing director.

At the railway stations, another natural phenomenon threw time-tables haywire, as long-distance trains from north India to Howrah and Sealdah ran hours late.

The Rajdhanis from New Delhi to Howrah and Sealdah, Kalka Mail, the Doon Express and other trains were among those falling foul of the fog (see graphic).

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