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Death toll in Andamans put at 10,000

Thursday 30 December 2004, by NAMBATH*Suresh

PORT BLAIR, DEC. 29. The Andaman and Nicobar Islands administration has completed a survey of survivors of all the inhabited islands and the death toll in Sunday’s tsunami strike is now officially put at over 10,000 - dead or presumed dead. More than 72 hours after the killer waves came and went, authorities have lost hope of any of those categorised as "missing" being found alive. "If any of them were alive, they would have returned by now," says the Inspector-General of Police, S.B. Deol.

The distance between the inhabited islands, where the survey of survivors is over, and the uninhabited islands precludes the possibility of those declared "missing" having survived. They are now presumed dead.

Toll may rise

However, the death toll could go up further. Some of those injured could die, but more importantly, many of the islands officially considered uninhabited have actually been encroached upon by the Nicobarese.

In Car Nicobar, where an Indian Air Force base was wiped out, the death toll could be as high as 3,000. In Katchal, the figure is 2,000 and in Chowra it is 1,000. Camorta, Campbell Bay, Hut Bay, Teressa, Trinkat and the smaller islands, where the dead are in hundreds, make up the total.

Lack of access

Relief operations have been hampered, not by shortage of food and medicine, which have reached in plenty, but by the lack of access. The tsunami destroyed almost all the jetties. For a group of islands, this is as bad as it could get.

Coast Guard vessels now approach the affected islands and deliver the relief material in small boats.

The administration has now requisitioned more helicopters, but they would have to be brought by ships. And time is of the essence now.

More than 25,000 people have been rendered homeless. In some islands, where relief could not be reached immediately, coconut trees kept many of the victims alive.

The most affected settlements were on the south-eastern side of the islands. In the first few hours after the tragedy, authorities grossly underestimated the extent of the damage. With the communications systems down, only a physical survey, which took three days to complete, gave a full picture of the devastation.

More than 60,000 people, in Little Andamans, Car Nicobar, Nancowrie islands and Campbell Bay were completely cut off.

There have been no confirmed deaths of foreigners or tourists. Similarly, primitive tribes of negrito origin such as the Great Andamanese, Onges, Jarawas and Sentinalese are not known to have been affected. The Shompens, though they inhabit the Nicobar islands, were also relatively safe.

But the Nicobarese, who like the Shompens are of Mongoloid stock, faced the full impact of the killer waves.

Indeed, officials believe that no Nicobarese was untouched.

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