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Since 1st March, 1999
 
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Run, run... the monster's coming

Port Blair, Dec 30: It was exactly 11.50 am. I was enjoying a cup of tea at the tribal welfare department when Raju, the errand boy, came rushing to the room.

'Run, run for your life. Don't you know that a second tsunami has hit Port Blair' Why are you still inside' he shouted before taking the stairs down to the street.

Having spent the last few days in Port Blair and accustomed to more than 60 tremors, I wasn't shaken.

But one look through the first-floor window was enough to send a chill down my spine. Hundreds were making a dash for the highest point in Port Blair, the secretariat office complex on a hillock, which was already teeming with people.

The Andaman and Nicobar administration, perhaps, did not realise that an alert sounded 10 minutes before a probable tsumani could create such chaos.

Madhuri Srinivasan, 32, barely managed to put on her slippers and rush out of her house, grabbing her two-year-old in her arms. 'God, save me from this disaster. I heard the sea has already inundated the streets down below,' she said before collapsing.

There were others like Akhil Sharma and his wife Sujata, tourists from Chennai, who were terrified.

'I have lost my brother in the Marina beach tragedy in Chennai. I don't want to die as well,' said Sharma.

By noon, the Ocean Development Authority's warning has percolated down to the common man. Offices were emptied, shopkeepers downed shutters and women and children fled their homes.

From the district collector's office to the tourism department and even the high court, not a soul could be seen.

'Can you feel the strong wind blowing towards Port Blair' Can't you see that the birds have stopped chirping' Disaster is imminent,' an official yelled.

When policemen wanted to shut the secretariat gate, absolute mayhem broke out. A crowd gatecrashed and beat up the guards.

Around 12.30 pm, the people realised the sea was calm and that, perhaps, it had been a false alarm. It was now time to blame the administration for pressing the alarm button so late.

'If the tsunami warning was for noon, why did they alert us only 10 minutes earlier' shouted Murugusam, worried more because he had left his restaurant unlocked.

All the roads ' from Aberdeen Market, Middle Road, MG Road and Hill Road to the Goleghar area ' were deserted, looking like Calcutta on a bandh day.

Lieutenant governor Ram Khapse, on a tour of relief camps on the islands, asked All India Radio to broadcast that people should not panic.

Around 3 pm, when things seemed to have calmed down, the ground started shaking and everybody was out on the streets, the panic button beeping again. But it turned out to be the usual aftershock that people have grown used to.

Another scare followed in the form of a mud volcano (bubbles of steam and mud) erupting to a height of 3 metres on Baratang Island, several kilometres from Port Blair.

'There's nothing to worry. The volcano had suddenly erupted but things are under control,' said the inspector-general S.B. Deol.

However, not everyone was perturbed. Around 5 in the evening, American tourists John McLean and his wife Martha were enquiring why shops had been closed in the afternoon.

When told about the scare, John smiled: 'Oh really! But we were in the sea and the water was rather pleasant today.'

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