“I lost two of my children in 2004 tsunami, only one survived. My youngest who was 10 months old in 2004 is in 10th standard today. All her books are gone. I haven’t lost my family this time but we have nothing left,” says Veeran. The dejection in his eyes, he hides from his daughter.
Veeran’s family is one among the 130 others in Nagapattinam’s Vizhunthamavadi fishing village (south) who have lost their houses and boats. Close to 600 people are housed at a high-rise mandapam, that lies less than a kilometre from the sea. This is one among the 13 relief camps in Vizhunthamavadi that presently house 5,000 people who have been displaced.
The fishermen here allege that what they witnessed in the wee hours of November 16 was definitely worse than the tsunami of 2004. “We were caught unawares during the tsunami in 2004 and so the damage to life and property was justified to an extent. But now, even though we were prepared to face the natural calamity, we did not foresee the disaster this was to bring us,” says Muthaiyan, fishermen association president.
While the government has announced Rs 85,000 for those who’ve lost their boats, the fishermen here tell us that the money would not be enough to cover even half the costs. “The boats cost around Rs 2 to 3 lakh each. The nets cost way more than that. It would take close to 50 people about 30 days to ready these nets,” he tells us.
Surukku Valai as these nets are called is their treasure. The gales of wind that swept through the shores of Vizhunthamavadi have razed the livelihood of hundreds in the area to the ground.
“These nets are worth several lakhs. When the government made the announcement for us to vacate, we locked our nets in the godown assuming nothing would happen to them. Now look at the state of our godown,” says Suresh Kumar, a fisherman and a member of their informal panchayat union, pointing to the fallen structure and the heaps of colourful nets that cannot be salvaged.
‘How can Rs 85,000 suffice?’ is a question that’s plaguing everyone. “We don’t want them to give us any money. We pray for them to replace our only source of sustenance. Please gives us back our boats,” adds Suresh Kumar.
The fishermen also observe that the tsunami of 2004, while it took away several lives, the damage to property was not as bad as how it is for Gaja. “Our boats lie in pieces, three kilometers away from where we parked them. Surely no wind can do this. It must have been a tsunami,” says one of them.
That Nagapattinam coast has faced the full fury of Gaja is evident from the state of affairs in this district. While there’s intermittent rainfall throughout the day, electricity has not be restored and people had very little access to good drinking water.
When TNM visited the camp, the government was installing a drinking water tank closer to the relief camp. But the people’s anger seems unappeased.
“The government gave us two sacks of rice. Just two. We’ve not touched it. We’ve pooled in whatever we can to buy our own grocery. Our relatives from other districts have collected whatever they can and have sent them to us. The people from Vellakoil have sent us milk packets. It seems as if the government does not care for us,” says 52-year old Mahalakshmi. Behind her, 58-year old Baby and 63-year-old Nirmala Devi are chopping vegetables that’ll soon be added to the sambar that has been boiling in a giant aluminium container perched on a stove.
In these past four days, the people of Vizhunthamavadi fishing village tell us that not one government official has visited them. “On Monday evening one MLA visited us. What is the use of visiting us after dark? What damage can they possibly see?” Megala seethes.
The women in the campsite, while pointing out that lack of communication has marooned them from the rest of the world, also tell us of their damaged tailoring machines. Tamilarasi who is 27 says, “The women here either sell fish or stitch clothes. Now it is not possible for us to do either. Our tailoring machines and clothes are completely damaged.”
In these past few years, the state has not had a local body election. This, too, is a reason for them being neglected say a few of them. 39-year-old Sinnakili says, “Village Officer does what he can. Without any support from the government, what else can they do? They have installed drinking water tank for us now. They also bring in NGOs to support us. But without the complete support from government, what more can they do?”
Telling us that the relief measures were much more efficient after the tsunami of 2004, Megala says that the government’s apathy has disappointed them further. “We hope they don’t come to us during elections. We want nothing to do with them,” she says, the anger in her eyes quite evident.>