Armed forces put on emergency alert

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By SUJAN DUTTA in Delhi
  • Published 26.12.04
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New Delhi, Dec. 26: The government has asked the defence ministry to put the military on an emergency peace-time operation in the wake of the series of tsunamis. The military operation is being coordinated by the chief of integrated defence staff (CIDS), Vice-Admiral Raman Puri.

Military headquarters have categorised four major areas of concern, two them international:

• The mainland and coasts of Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh

• The island territories in the Andaman and Nicobar

• Sri Lanka

• Maldives.

?For the moment, we are just acting on what is visible and what information we are getting from our own units. It is clear that the civil administration has been in a state of shock and it took hours for them to realise what had happened,? defence sources said.

In the east coast, the naval operation is tentatively named Madat (help). The naval assistance to Sri Lanka has been categorised under an operation named Rainbow. The integrated service headquarters that is coordinating the military rescue and relief efforts has not yet accepted these names.

The military rescue operation is massive, involving the eastern, southern and western naval commands and the coast guard ? i.e. more than half the navy; the Secunderabad-based 54 division of the army, and helicopter and transport squadrons of the air force in Mumbai, Pune, Nashik, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Calcutta and every major military establishment in the south and the east. Vice-Admiral Puri has been asked to coordinate the joint services operation from Chennai.

Ships, helicopters and aircraft loaded with medicines, relief and rescue teams, including divers, are being sent to all the four major areas. Defence minister Pranab Mukherjee cut short a tour to Calcutta and is expected to reach New Delhi this evening.

Reports from military establishments reaching the headquarters in South Block said the civil administration was pulverised and units of the armed forces were put into service without waiting for formal requisitions.

The tri-service unified command in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, that reports to the CIDS, has informed the headquarters that the southern group of islands were still largely incommunicado.

The defence headquarters has asked for satellite images and ministry sources said much of the satellite photographs that will enable a damage assessment would be available only by tomorrow morning. The tri-service command?s own facilities have taken a beating.

An estimated 50,000 people live in islands from Car Nicobar to Indira Point. The sources said that two airfields in Port Blair and Car Nicobar were partially usable. At Car Nicobar, at least 10 people were killed in the IAF base and three passenger ships were damaged in Port Blair.

A landing ship, the INS Ghariyal, which was returning from an exercise in the eastern seaboard was diverted to the Nicobar group. A landing ship carries troops from the army. By evening today, six ships from Port Blair were sent to Car Nicobar and Campbell Bay. Havelock Island in the northern group was also reported to be badly hit and several hundreds are feared stranded.

A Tu-142 maritime surveillance aircraft flew a sortie over the Nicobar islands this afternoon.

Navy spokesman Commander Vinay Garg said four ships have sailed to Trincomalee and Galle in Sri Lanka from Chennai and Kochi.

The navy also flew a Dornier from Kochi to Colombo carrying relief. A Dornier will fly another sortie to Sri Lanka from Kochi tomorrow morning.

From the Western Naval Command, the navy is deploying a destroyer, a Leander Class frigate and a tanker to the Maldives. The sources said communication links from the Nicobar Islands and from the Maldives had virtually snapped. By this evening ?one or two? VHF sets were limping to life. Portable satellite communication systems were being despatched. The defence ministry was still assessing if troops are needed to be sent to the Maldives and Sri Lanka.

Coast guard and naval vessels were also patrolling the east coast between Haldia in Bengal to Tamil Nadu. The entire eastern command with its headquarters in Visakhapatnam is involved in search and rescue missions. Naval and air force helicopters from Visakhapatnam were flying to Prakasam, Nellore, Krishna and West Godavari districts in Andhra and from Arakonnam to Pondicherry, Nagapattinam and Karakal in Tamil Nadu.

Army spokesman Colonel Sakhuja said helicopter sorties were being flown to rescue about 500 people stranded at Vivekananda Rock off Kanyakumari.