Car Nicobar, Dec. 28: Struggling to cope with death and destruction, the Andaman and Nicobar administration was staring at a 10,000-plus toll two days after an earthquake-triggered tsunami swept away villages and killed thousands.
The centre of all relief and rescue activity today was Car Nicobar, with Indian Air Force sorties flown in every half an hour to the cluster of 13 islands.
'The latest reports reaching us from Car Nicobar suggest that every one out of five islanders is either dead or missing. With a population of 50,000 people, one can well imagine what the death toll will be,' said an official overseeing relief and rescue.
Rakesh Kala, rear admiral and chief of staff of the Andaman and Nicobar command, said: 'The devastation has been total, not a single house seems to have been spared in the villages. We are realistically looking at a more than 5,000 death toll in Car Nicobar alone, so the overall toll here should be around 10,000 at least.'
Survivors ' Nicobarese, Tamilians, and tribals ' sat on both sides of the airfield, waiting for their turn to hop on to an Indian Air Force aircraft and move to safer ground.
The devastation is complete, from Great Nicobar, the biggest of the islands that covers about 1,000 sq. km, to Pillomillo, the smallest. Other islands in the Car Nicobar group ' Lavathi, Musu and Malacca ' have been wiped away.
'Everywhere, the sea has eaten up nearly 150-200 feet. Is this the beginning of the end' asked Raj Amma, a 45-year-old woman who lost her two children and husband.
'A few seconds after the ground shook, I heard a huge rumble and could see even the rocks at the bottom of the sea as the waves rose from both sides like a pair of twin demons, and lashed us in a fraction of a second,' said Muthu Krishna, who had migrated from Tamil Nadu several years ago.
Lt. governor Ram Khapse and S.B. Deol, the inspector-general of the Andamans, took charge of relief and evacuation through the day on Car Nicobar.
'With the death toll rising every day, things are looking bleak, but there was nothing one could do about it because Car Nicobar, being to the south of Port Blair and right on the path of the tsunami, bore the brunt of the waves,' Deol said.
Till 11 pm, IAF aircraft were dropping food, clothes, cans of drinking water and other relief material. In the death-laden darkness of Car Nicobar, a few kerosene lamps placed on both sides of the runway were the only illumination that guided pilots to land.
About 2,000 people were evacuated. 'We have been taking out people from Camp Belbay and Car Nicobar to Port Blair. Our efforts will continue tomorrow as well,' said wing commander P. Maheshwar.
In capital Port Blair, people are still scared to venture out in the streets. Last night and this morning, there were several tremors.
'I was thrown out of bed around 1 am today. I rushed out into the streets and found hundreds of people there,' said Ashish Ganguly, who was rushing to the airport for a flight out.