Recovering from the Tsunami

Reporter Pema Ngodup has been in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu since a few days after the tsunami struck. He says things have improved for people living in the hardest-hit coastal towns, including Nagappattinam, one of the worst affected. Aid is getting through, debris is being cleared, and the district's children have returned to school.
Pema Ngodup
2005-01-10 - Nagappattiman, Tamil Nad
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Right now the Indian state government is doing very well with the rehabilitation of the seashore in the different villages and towns hit by the tidal wave, and international and national nongovernment organizations (NGOs) are helping the Indian government.
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Children in Nagappattinam head back to school for the first time since the tsunami struck. Photo: RFA/Pema Ngodup >> See the slideshow

Relief workers are clearing away what's left of houses destroyed by the floods, taking out the things destroyed by the wave, removing the debris. The job is almost finished. Right now they are in the process of repairing the electricity and the water supply.

The state government of Tamil Nadu has distributed 4,000 rupees (U.S. $91) to each family affected by the tsunami, as well as 60 kilos of rice, two bed sheets, some clothing for the family. NGOs have also distributed rice, buckets, blankets, bread and clothing.

People want livelihoods back

Most of the seashore people are still not satisfied with the help done by the NGOs and the government. The main livelihood in this area is fishing and the people say they still need more help. The main thing is they need new houses, boats, and motors for the boats.

Some of the NGOs in this area are adopting villages and helping to provide them with these things.

Getting back to normal

Now the area is much cleaner than when I first reached here a few days after the tsunami struck. I stopped in Nagappattinam first, and then went to visit many other places. I came back to Nagappattinam and now it is totally different. Everything is clean, and electricity and water supply are almost ready for the people. UNICEF has distributed a water tank for the villages near near the coastal area.

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RFA Tibetan service reporter Pema Ngodup in Tamil Nadu. Photo: RFA

Yesterday in Nagappattinam district, almost all the schools were open, but I saw many of the students crying when they remembered what happened and the principal also cried. Officials don't know exactly how many children were lost, because in most of the villages the houses were destroyed and the people aren't living in the area anymore, living in temples, schools, marriage hall. They don't know how many are missing or how many have died.

Government officials say in the whole district there were 1,400 students before the tsunami and today only 500 showed up. One school principal said the school furniture was destroyed, but he's getting help from the government and from NGOs. The government has also distributed uniforms and books for the students.

One of the students told me her two sisters and mother were lost. She doesn't want to stay here anymore; she wants to study in some other place. Another student lost her parents and everything she owned: her uniforms and her school things, like bags and notebooks, everything was lost. Right now she's in a very horrible condition.

She doesn't have anything. The principal told me they would be able to run schools smoothly with the help of the Indian government and the NGOs. Government officials say nearly 240 NGOs have been in contact with the Nagappattinam district administration offering assistance.

Orphans and widows

I went to one of the newly-opened orphanages run by the state government. There are 48 students at the orphanage school and eight staff members to look after them. According to the district commissioner in Nagappattinam, there are 414 children in orphanages throughout the district. The children are very happy with the facilities. The state government says it is planning to give them shelter and education and when they get older, they will try to find jobs for them.

And they're also giving help to the many women whose husbands were killed. For widows who don't have anyone, the government is giving them training so that they can stand on their own feet

My impressions

I'm feeling well right now. In the beginning I felt uneasy and sick because in the early days officials spread some chemicals to stop the spread of disease. In one place I went I didn't get any food. The hotels were completely closed, and everyone ran away when the government put out the the false report of the tsunami.

These are very sad things here. Sometimes I feel like crying because when I see those people are sad and begin to cry, I feel very sad and I also feel like shedding tears.

Yesterday I asked someone if God has looked out for them, and one of the teachers in the school said, 'Everyone says God has not forsaken us.'

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