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Since 1st March, 1999
 
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Courage links three survivors
- Islanders fight to reach outside world

Port Blair, Jan. 7: One drifted, two others walked; but all survived.

Avanthi Alya, 52, drifted more than 50 km in a crude boat for four days and four nights without food or water after the tsunami crashed on Pilpillow, a hamlet on Comorta island, about 400 km from Port Blair.

Life in the hamlet was wiped out on December 26 but for Avanthi. The first few days, she hung around, expecting help to arrive. But she soon realised that survivors would have to live on their own as the Nancowrie group of islands was almost out of bounds for the rest of humanity.

'Waiting did not make any sense. So I decided to take the plunge. Either way, I knew I would be dead,' Avanthi said.

'Luckily, I found a crude boat, which somehow did not go adrift as it was several metres inside the coast, now flooded,' she recalled.

Overpowered by the need to survive and find land, Avanthi cut the rope of the boat on December 29 and set sail. 'The water was several metres high, the boat was crude and I feared I would be thrown overboard. But I held on to it somehow.'

Once adrift, Avanthi was at a loss. She could not understand where she was heading in the expanse of water. Hours later, she lost consciousness.

On January 2, the woman was noticed by a ship near Tarasa island, almost 50 km from where she had set out. 'When I saw her, I could not believe it. This was an amazing display of human courage,' V.B. Bellary of the ship, LCU 34, said. 'She said she wanted to be at a relative's place in Tarasa. We asked her about the fate of her family but she kept mum,' Bellary added.

Like Avanthi, two of a group of 19 Nicobaris on Katchal island decided not to wait but go out and find help. 'We walked 16 km while our friends stayed at a makeshift camp. We ate coconuts and bananas but were starving most of the time,' said Nathalian, one of the duo. He is now at a Port Blair hospital.

They finally reached a makeshift helipad, where air force personnel on a rescue mission had almost given up hope of finding life.

'They (the personnel) immediately informed us and we sent the specially requisitioned M1-8 helicopter to rescue the Nicobaris,' a defence spokesperson said.

The entire group was airlifted in two batches and taken to safer ground.

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