The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Too many storms, quakes in islands

Port Blair, Dec. 18: For the third day running, Sara Heinburg could not go to Havelock island. She and her fellow Germans have not been able to visit some of the other big tourist draws like Hut Bay or Barren Island either, with the sea heaving and the wind blowing hard.

As the tsunami anniversary approaches, Salil Mehta, the command Met officer and oceanographer, explained how “the formation of cyclones and low pressure is abnormally high this month”.

The Met department findings are scary. In the last 30 years, only 0.45 cyclones have hit the Andaman and Nicobar Islands every December, but this time three cyclones have already struck.

“The weather pattern is changing fast and even the seabed continues to undergo changes. We are now analysing the data for more answers,” Mehta said.

“The sea is very rough. Waves up to 2.6 metres have been reported in the high seas. No wonder vessel commanders are scared to venture out into the sea. The memories of the tsunami are still fresh,” added Mehta, as he worked with fellow officer R. Srinivas on analysing the data.

A report on earthquakes hitting the Indian subcontinent in the past one year gives a devastating picture. Of the 516 earthquakes between December 26, 2004, and December 18 this year, about 75.19 per cent (388) quakes and aftershocks over 5 (moderate) on the Richter scale have hit the Andaman and Nicobar and Sumatra region, sending oceanographers, Met officials and geophysicists scurrying for answers.

The report reveals that 23 moderate quakes have hit the Andamans and Sumatra region in the past three months, with four rocking Port Blair in December, driving inhabitants out of their houses.

For the past few days, heavy to moderate rain has been lashing Port Blair and adjoining areas. At 6.30 am today, MV Katchal started off from the Phoenix Bay jetty here for Hut Bay with tourists, after struggling with the swelling waves for 20 minutes, the commander had to turn back.

“With the skies turning grey and winds up to 20 km per hour near the coast, I do not want to risk so many people’s lives in the high seas,” said an official.

A little later, another vessel, this one headed for Havelock, turned back to Port Blair after 40 minutes, retreating under the effect of strong winds and high waves.

“The tourists were so scared that they were vomiting all over the deck. I was afraid that another tsunami had perhaps hit the region,” said Sudipto Roy, a tourist who was on the vessel.

Even helicopter services have stopped.

With the weather showing no signs of improving and another deep depression intensifying a few hundred kilometres from the Sri Lanka coast, the tourists may be looking at the threat of being stranded in Port Blair.

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