hey’re always ready for action; their journeys always filled with ‘joy in despair’ that leads them to their destination. They move bases from spot to spot, frequently, that only people in the military will understand what TDs (Temporary Duty) are all about. They’re forced to embrace such reality and their kit bags always came first for another move that survive the military for any adventure at its worst.
By doing so, at one time, the protagonist now remembers the day he encountered the most dreadful day — at Car Nic, a lesser known island of Andaman and Nicobar where only a few are inhabited. His idea of islands was just a few dots while drawing the India map on schooldays. It was a mistaken belief, as islands are quite largely spread, whereas even commercial flights operate between Port Blair and Campbell Bay via Car Nicobar.
Sundays are usually meant to be a day of rest for the men in blue. These men were lazily lounging on the 1st floor watching the scenic beauty of the rising and falling of the sea’s surface.
He sat sipping tea at 08:30 in the morning on that fateful Boxing Day beside the sandy, stony, rocky land with the wind-driven waves of the sea. It was a scene of peace, calm and sanity; and the seashore was remote from the usual tourist routes. His friend, a photography enthusiast, was capturing the long high tides while a few tourists were engaged in sea-bathing.
Tidal waves were at times gentle but he realised that waves were not caused by gravitational interactions between the Sun, the Moon and the Earth. Something went wrong when he gradually observed into the series of waves and it really crept into his thought.
Suddenly, the ocean waves started turning violent. It was a tsunami, coming, sending a powerful blow to the islands 30 minutes after an earthquake under the Indian Ocean at West Coast of Sumatra Islands, Indonesia. There were shouts and cries in despair and people ran for safety.
Within a short space of time, everything got washed away by the series of rising waves of 100feet height, the dreadful sight of a large volume of turbulent water, which continued for hours. The men in blue were literally swimming inside the building like the sinking Titanic with no immediate clues in mind.
Over the course of a few hours, people perished while running towards high ground. Localities miraculously survived by taking refuge in trees, floating on debris or pieces of wood on a desperate act. The scale of the devastation was very high in the single story residential quarters. They swam ashore, trapped inside the mess for several hours until floodwaters had receded.
This scene drags the victim’s mind to the grim reality of how much havoc the fury of nature can cause even as many survived the tsunami. It was a lifetime’s experience; of a hairline survival of life for many from the jaws of death.
The survivors were enveloped by shock as there was no disaster planning for life boat facility. They’re fortunate to survive unhurt from the curse of the tsunami. Seven years later, another tsunami wave in 2011, after the Tohoku earthquake, swept away Japan’s NE Coast.
Tsunami is a worldwide natural phenomenon that occurs frequently as a result of minor earthquakes, because of seismic and volcanic activity associated with tectonic plate. The memories are refusing to die away.
The echoes of that morning continued to reverberate throughout their lives, and the islands have acquired a special and historical significance.
Car Nic was once under Japanese occupation, during 1942-45. The bitumen runway was built during world war and then the British Royal Air Force used it as a refuelling base for Colombo and Singapore. After tsunami, it remained a little for India’s southernmost defence establishment of Indian Air Force; a sentinel that lives on with a lurking fear of the enemy’s misadventure in the Indian Ocean.
The morning of December 26, 2004 had changed the entire Air Base into a wreckage. The ocean tides claimed 3,500 lives including those of 180 IAF personnel. There was nothing left on the surface except for a layer of sandstone in the wilderness. It got completely washed away; and only a few pillars were seen in debris, flattening the entire base.
The tsunami was the result of a mega thrust of 9.1 at Richter Scale, the highest rating a phenomenon of this kind had ever in recent history. The death toll in India alone was placed above 18,000; and Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh were the worst-affected. The tsunami wrecked misery along the Coromandel Coast.
The Indian Ocean Tsunami killed more than 1.5 lakh people and made millions homeless, making it perhaps one of the most destructive tsunami in history. It slammed into the coastline of eleven Indian Ocean countries, snatching people out of their homes, onto the sea, drowning beaches and demolishing property over a long geographical stretch — from Africa to Thailand.
Since Car Nic has an extensive span of sea on all sides, it experienced intense damage to the coastline, reaching several hundred metres deep into the island.
God spares Noah, his family and animals by the vessel in the Genesis flood narrative of Noah’s Ark. Sadly, the Islanders’ prayers were not blessed enough in order for them to live through one of nature’s most powerful disasters.
The tsunami was so devastating that it silenced peoples’ senses and the grief turned worse. The survivors were in fear and trembling, waiting for an airlift to the Indian mainland, which was away at a distance of 1300km.
Hundreds of air sorties were made for rescue operation of more than a lakh people under mission “Operation Sea Waves” and “Operation Madad” by the Air Force, the Navy and the Coast Guard.
This writer recalls the silence of death as the survivors were heartbroken; their cries and sobs lingering, after pulling through a period of intense and profound fear and grief.
The writer is a former Air Warrior and now works for SBI, Dispur.