| A aerial view of the eroded shore at the Hut Bay on little Andaman island. (Reuter)
Port Blair, Jan. 3: At 16 km, relief rations come for free. At 6 km, you pay for your dal, potatoes and onions, no matter if you've been dodging elephants and going hungry for days.
When Mohamed Adip, a resident of Hut Bay ' a small island 6 km from Port Blair ' finally dared to come down from the mountains four days after the monstrous waves drove him there, some policemen overseeing relief told him he didn't qualify to get the ration.
'We won't give you food, this is for people who are stranded in 16 km (the local name for a particular area). You survive on your own,' one growled at him.
Adip, a staffer of the senior secondary school on Hut Bay, and a motley group of teachers and villagers, pleaded that they had been huddled in the mountains for days, hungry and chased by tuskers. But the policemen would not listen.
'They told us the relief was for people at 16 km. We had to buy food, which was packed in bags that had relief tags and relief material monograms embossed on them,' said Adip, recounting his tale in a relief camp in Port Blair.
The group pleaded again that their children were starving but to no avail. 'When we decided to head back to the mountains, someone told us food was available but we would have to get it for a price,' said Feroze, one of the others who had survived.
Back in the mountains, the group spotted some youths doing brisk business with the relief rations.
'On December 29, we bought 3 kg of dal for Rs 45 each and some rice as well. There were many who bought potatoes for Rs 30 a kg and onions for Rs 35 a kg,' Adip said.
It was around 6.30 in the morning that deadly Sunday when the 27-year-old Adip first felt the ground beneath his feet tremble. Immediately, he rushed out and alerted his neighbours.
'After returning home, I heard a rumble. Only then did I realise the water was rising as well,' Adip said.
As the word spread, panicky villagers gathered in knots. A small group formed near Adip's home, including schoolteacher Rajarshi, with her one-year-old in her arms, and another teacher L.N. Murthy.
'Since the jetty was getting flooded and the waves were rising, we decided to head for the mountains off Seloni village. We stayed there for nine hours, watching the destruction. We counted the dead, but stopped when we became tired,' said Adip, his right leg swathed in bandage.
About 10 people died in the mountains of heavy injuries and loss of blood because the doctor, Nianjan Topno, had fled to the jungles on another part of the island, Adip said.
For two days, not a soul came anywhere nearby to offer relief.
Starving and terrified, the group fed on wild berries and keora (a potato-like fruit).
Only once during the nightmare did relief officials ' who landed in MV Komorta on December 30 ' offer them something to eat. 'This was the first time some government officials, perhaps moved by our situation, offered us a small cake, but ordered that 10 people should have it,' said 45-year-old Punjama.