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Hut Bay forgotten for days

Hut Bay, Jan. 15: The jade waters lap gently at a heap of rubble off the Little Andaman coast. This was once the breakwater, sacrificed to save the jetty. But a few feet away is evidence of its dismal failure to stop the vengeance of the sea.

Hut Bay collapsed like a house of cards on December 26. The settlement, which consisted mainly of mainlanders, was left to survive virtually on its own for days, according to residents, and relief in many areas is still sporadic.

Following the tsunami, lines of communication crashed, keeping the devastation on this island, around six hours south of Port Blair, a secret for the better part of the day. When the information finally trickled through, some supplies were airdropped. 'It is only natural that you take care of your own home first,' said a unified command spokesman. So while work started immediately in the southern islands, Little Andaman was left, somewhat, to its own devices.

'For around four days, we survived off of the rice we found in a warehouse,' explains B. Appa Rao, an autorickshaw driver who fled from the rushing waters in his three-wheeler.

Records show that evacuation started from December 29. The unified command has also taken note of the fact that relief distribution on the ground did pose a problem.

Even yesterday, tonnes of relief cargo brought in by the M.V. Kamorta lay unclaimed by the tehsildar's office, which was supposed to be at hand to accept the load. With the breakwater and its road connecting the jetty to land now useless, an Austin (a vehicle ferry) was sent from Port Blair to the Hut Bay on Thursday to offload passengers and cargo brought in by high-speed vessels, which could only go as far as the jetty. The flat-bottomed Austin can navigate shallow water, to where a slipway has survived, and is still accessible by land. But the efforts of the seamen ' many of whom have lost their own homes ' hardly count if the precious supplies don't reach the villages in need.

Luckily, unlike Car Nicobar, there is high ground on Little Andaman Island. So the villagers who rushed into the forests two Sundays ago were spared. The relief camps have been set up in these areas. NGOs, which have been kept away from the southern group of islands, have come in here. CINI, the RSS seva wing and Bharath Seva Dal from Karnataka are a few of the organisations who have flocked here.

Some of the inhabitants have moved into their old homes. Among the ruins of huts and houses, hospitals and cars, some buildings have managed to hold their ground. A signal tower is strangely intact, though it lies on its side after being knocked down by the waves. Apparatus dangles from a wall ' now the ceiling ' wires refusing to give way to gravity.

A deserted church a few hundred feet from the shore seems like it has miraculously weathered the sudden onslaught 20 days ago. But the windows have been knocked out, and it has been abandoned. Merry Christmas, screams a festive star that still hangs above the entrance to the doorway, Mother Mary, head lowered, by its side.

'The tsunami is God's way of reminding us that he is there,' says Samir Kohli, deputy director, shipping service, coordinating 70 merchant ships that are now a critical link in the relief operations. He lost four vessels to the angry waters. One was M.V. Maya, docked off Car Nicobar. The ship lies 10 km from where she is supposed to be ' half a km inland ' on top of a tree.

Whatever its fury, the sea is still girlfriend, lover, wife, smiles Kohli. 'If you talk to the sea, it talks back to you.'

What does she whisper now'

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