The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Andaman in fresh fumble with figures
Army chief in corpse faux pas

Port Blair, Jan. 1: The devastation apart, the administration on the ravaged Andaman and Nicobar Islands is also grappling with figures. The numbers have been changing almost everyday and Saturday was no different. The count of missing people suddenly swelled to over 5,400 today from 3,754 yesterday.

Adding to the confusion was chief of army staff N.C. Vij. After a six-hour visit to Car Nicobar ' perhaps the worst affected island ' today, he initially said over 1,000 bodies were lying there and only 120 had been buried. Later, he retracted the statement and said the figure could be for all the islands.

Asked why the figures are getting jumbled, the general replied: 'Nowhere are people sure about figures.'

As the administration struggled with the extent of the human tragedy, a team from Isro's National Remote Sensing Agency began the arduous task of investigating how the tsunamis have affected the topography of the Andamans.

'Issues like the increasing mud volcano eruption and the situation in Barren Island (139 km from Port Blair), which has a dormant volcano, will also be assessed by the team,' said a government official.

With allegations of bodies rotting on the islands and relief not reaching people flying about, the new Integrated Relief Command (INC), comprising the army and civil administrations, admitted that they were yet to 'reach out to a section of stranded tribals' on some of the islands. Lt Governor Ram Khapse is the chairman of the command, which will coordinate the relief operation now.

'The relief materials have reached every island, but the topography of the places are such that some people are yet to get it,' said Lt General B.S. Thakur, the new vice-chairman of the committee. He is also the commander-in-chief (Andaman and Nicobar Islands) of the unified command of the armed forces.

On the missing population, Thakur said it can be presumed that a majority of the missing are dead.

Thakur, also the official spokesperson for the INC, said divers were deployed at Indira Point to check whether there were any survivors. The team reported that they could not find any in the now-submerged southernmost point of India.

Aerial surveys of the affected islands have shown the team that the topography of many islands had changed. 'Well, we could clearly see that most islands do not have beaches anymore,' said Thakur.

'Water has also penetrated deep into the islands and it is a strange phenomenon that it is not receding. The water levels seem to have risen,' he added.

He brushed aside speculation that cholera and typhoid have broken out in Car Nicobar and said three fresh water wells have been dug up and people are getting drinking water. 'The situation will improve everyday,' he said.

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