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Living fear the dead

Nagapattinam, Jan. 2: The Jayalalithaa government would like Jaya to return home. But the chief minister's namesake, belonging to a fisherman's family and among the thousands displaced by the tsunami, cringes at the thought.

'You scratch the surface and a body will pop up. So we dread getting back there,' Jaya said of her settlement in Nagapattinam, Tamil Nadu's worst-hit district.

The 'great fear' of 68 per cent of Nagapattinam's population, living in 96 relief camps since the tsunamis struck last Sunday, is that they will be returning to graveyards in the places where once their houses stood.

'With the bodies recovered in hamlets like Akkarapet and Keechankuppam being burnt or buried there itself, our original homes have become a graveyard,' said Jaya.

'How can we go back and live there when the water is contaminated' she asked as fellow fisherwoman Vasanthi nodded in agreement.

The state authorities, keen to ensure better coordination of relief work, is 'giving them an option' to return to their localities.

'Unless all the displaced people get back to Nagapattinam, it will not be possible for the government to disburse the immediate cash relief of Rs 2,000 to put up temporary thatched houses in their areas,' said a village administrative officer at a relief camp in neighbouring Thiruvarur district.

'It will also be difficult to disburse the solatium of Rs 1 lakh to the kin of each of the persons killed,' he added, explaining the authorities' 'advice' to the displaced to return home.

But the fisherfolk, who comprise a majority of the displaced, are not convinced.

Jaya and Vasanthi were among a group of people being shifted from a relief camp in Thiruvarur to Nagapattinam last evening.

Official figures show that 91,036 people are put up at relief camps housed in various 'kalyana mandapams (marriage halls)' and schools here as also in neighbouring Thiruvarur and Thanjavur.

Nagapattinam has 133,000 people and has so far reported the highest death toll for any single district at 5,905.

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