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Shape of India altered
Tsunami snuffs out southern light

Campbell Bay, Dec. 29: A lighthouse ' only a part of it ' sticks out of the ocean. Indira Point is lost, perhaps forever, in the water.

And India's map may have to be changed.

'A very important and integral part of our country's border is totally submerged,' said Milind Patil, a senior coast guard official.

Indira Point, so named by the late Rajiv Gandhi after his mother on a visit to the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, was the southernmost tip of India until Sunday's earthquake-triggered tsunami swamped it.

A defence official likened the submergence to the loss of peaks during the Kargil war to Pakistan. It may not be the only area that has fallen off India's map. Nor may it be the only change in the topography of the Nicobar islands.

Patil, the coast guard commander of the Nicobar islands, said some of the islands had tilted.

Ken Hudnut, a geophysicist at the US Geological Survey, however, said satellite images had shown that, like Sumatra, the Nicobar islands could have moved out to sea by an unknown distance under the impact of the earthquake.

Reuters quoted Hudnut as saying scientists will have to use hand-held satellite positioning systems to establish whether the land masses on the surface have shifted.

There is a dispute between scientists over whether the quake moved or tilted the Indonesian island of Sumatra.

Defence and coast guard officials familiar with the Nicobar islands agreed that the phenomenon appeared to have caused a tilt. Patil said Great Nicobar, the farthest island to the south where Indira Point used to be, has 'tilted a bit'.

Another island, Trinkat, appears to have been split in two, said S.B. Deol, inspector-general of Andaman and Nicobar. 'Part of the island has been submerged, while one half is visible,' he said.

Deol believes the shift or tilt could be more widespread than being restricted to Great Nicobar. 'Like Sumatra, the land in the twin island territories has moved a wee bit. That is what I felt during the survey and once we are finished with all the rescue work, the maps have to be reworked,' he said.

There is no trace of four scientists studying Olive Ridley and giant leatherback turtles at Indira Point along with 16-20 families residing around the lighthouse. 'We tried a lot but failed to trace the families or the scientists. Since Indira Point is just 140 km away from Sumatra, the tsunami waves perhaps did not give them any chance,' said Patil.

He was witness to the destruction of the forward operating base of the armed forces at Campbell Bay where a coast guard armoury was also ruined.

A day after the tsunami hit the islands, a reconnaissance mission took off from the repaired airstrip of Car Nicobar. 'We asked a pilot to inspect the damages' The horrified pilot returned and reported that all that remained of Indira Point was half a lighthouse,' Patil said.

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