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News update 5th January '05

A Tsunami Ghost Village

What hits you as you enter the village of Mudaliarkuppam, 11 kilometers north of Pondicherry, is the silence. And the absence of life: there is not a soul to be seen here. Yet, more than 300 families used to live in this rather prosperous fishing village on the Coromandel coast, in small bunker-like houses built by the Government. Fiberglass boats with diesel engines, rather than the age old catamarans with oars, were used to fish and Mudalliarkuppam boasted of one elementary and one high school which catered to the needs of five villages.

But the Tsunami waves struck. And they struck hard. 28 people lost their lives here. On the beach, it’s an apocalyptic scene: fiberglass boats lie neatly broken into two, engines are buried in the sand, and one trips all over on fishing nets: enmeshed in the tress, on the boats, in branches. Today the sea looks o so blue and calm, but everything has been razed by the fury of its waves, bar three Ayyanar statues, who traditionally guard Tamil villages against evil. Was this Tsunami evil? Clerics all over Asia, all over the world even, are debating this issue right now. An old man, who has lived 60 years in the village and refused to leave it when the Government asked everybody to evacuate, sits quietly in one corner, brooding about the future.

Today the Auroville Tsunami Relief Team has come to clean Mudaliarkuppam. Guests, volunteers, along with many of the students of the schools of Auroville are on hand. And it’s appropriate. With enthusiasm and a good level of energy, we first start with the cleaning of the schools. 302 students used to sit in the High school and 216 in the Elementary one. The impact of the waves in the classrooms has to be seen to be believed. Chairs have been tossed around and are lying down broken, the rooms are filled by half a meter of sand and debris and all the books and notebooks are wet and often destroyed. One of the school teachers, Mr Jayavalli, points out at the high mark that the water has left on the walls - higher than a small child - and says: “It’s a miracle that the Tsunami waves happened on a Sunday and that no children were present”.

It takes two hours to clean all the schools and put the books and notebooks to dry in the sun. Then we start on a street, dragging the debris to an area to be burnt, sorting out the plastics and using the broken pillars to fill-up trenches created by the waves. By 1 PM we have managed to clean only a small part of the village, but we will come back again tomorrow and day after tomorrow until this village looks like a village again and people can start coming back and rebuilding their lives.

It’s also time for the Auroville Relief Team to network with other NGO’s. There are so many of them working around and instead of the fruitless competition that is often going amongst volunteer groups during catastrophes of this kind, Auroville thought it was fit to meet each other. Thus Hemant attended a Boomika Trust meeting with 40-50 NGO’s, all concerned with the tsunami-affected areas and people. The meeting concentrated on 4 main aspects of the situation: health, shelter, relief and rehabilitation and info-coordination. A major input from Auroville was wanted in the form of a tsunami-related information clearing house to facilitate the information sharing platform that is to be built among the concerned NGO’s. To make this happen, the four affected shoreline districts of Cuddalore, Villupuram, Nagapattinam, Kanniakumari will be connected, information-wise. The actual hardware network has to be created, computers have to be set up, and the Information Clearing House will have to function like a sort of intranet for the concerned NGO’s. Its job will be to categorize, put in order and disseminate tsunami-related information.

Today a huge distribution work took place in Sodinarkuppam. Buckets, water jugs, mugs, bed sheets, lungis, sarees, soaps, coconut hair oil, education material such as notebooks, pencils, erasers, sharpeners etc. were given to the most affected fishermen families (35). 300kg of rice, 100 kg of oil, 100kg of dal were given to the whole village (125 families). The children of the same village got nets, volley-, basket- and footballs, as well as skipping ropes and ring balls.

We also have to look after our own people in Auroville beach communities, who did not lose their lives but have suffered a lot of material damage and have often been traumatized. The Auroville Tsunami Relief Centre strongly recommends the speedy allocation of an AV house to people from Auroville beach communities who are in urgent housing need. The Tsunami Relief Team approves immediate allocation of Rs. 10,000 to all affected beach-community residents and the assurance that maintenances for the time being will continue. All this is separate from property-rehabilitation.

Finally, the goodwill is also flowing in terms of donations: On Tuesday, another 800.000 Rupees were pledged and we have a total projected income until now: one million rupees for village relief and 150.000 Rupees for Auroville beach relief.

Thank you parents, friends, well-wishers and, Aurovilians for your support and your trust. You are making all this good work possible.