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Last Updated: Friday, 31 December, 2004, 16:19 GMT
From pilgrimage centre to ghost town

By Sunil Raman
BBC News, Tamil Nadu

Church in Velanganni, Tamil Nadu, India
Few worshippers will be around for New Year's Eve Mass
The day after Christmas, the Christian pilgrimage town of Velanganni was thronged with about 15,000 visitors.

Now the churches are nearly empty. About 2,000 died in Sunday's tsunami - and most of the survivors have left.

Selvanathan, of the Basilica Church, says: "We will have a midnight Mass on New Year's Eve, but there are few people around."

There are no offerings now in Velanganni, a short drive from Nagappattinam in Tamil Nadu state.

The many shops that sold icons of Christ and the Virgin Mary, along with incense sticks and curios, are also gone.

Public address

The waters of the Bay of Bengal wash empty beaches.

When this place was full of pilgrims I would earn around 2,000 rupees ($46) a day. Who will come now?
shop owner

Broken bamboo frames are the only reminders of the beach shops.

The stall owners and buyers of Velanganni beach had no time to run to safety as the wall of water engulfed them.

Policemen with bamboo sticks now keep people away from the beaches.

One told us that bodies washed ashore had been buried in one corner. They had no identification and no one claimed them.

Devastation in Velanganni, Tamil Nadu, India
Survivors fled the Christian pilgrimage town of Velanganni

A voice on a public address system calls on people to pray for the dead.

Behind blue plastic sheets covering the curio stalls, Shanmugam holds a shovel in his shop. He tries to remove a metre of wet sand that was deposited inside.

"It will take me two to three years to rebuild my business," he says.

"On Saturdays and Sundays when this place was full of pilgrims I would earn around 2,000 rupees ($46) a day. Who will come now?"

The many hotels of this town are empty.

Christmas was when they did a roaring trade. They will now have to wait for normalcy to return.

'Limping back to normal'

Back in Nagappattinam, my temporary base, relief work has resumed a day after an unfounded fresh tsunami warning sparked panic.

I have lost my children and my wife has taken refuge at a relative's. I hope my taxi business will pick up again
Madhav, taxi driver

Earth movers, cranes, rescue workers, sanitation workers and some residents have returned to the devastated coastal area.

Vehicles are back on what were deserted streets, displaced people at relief centres and government officials exude confidence.

The zonal relief commissioner, Vivek Harinarain, told the BBC that the situation was "slowly but steadily limping back to normal".

He said that in the next 48 hours roads would be cleared, silted houses cleaned, water connections restored in 90% of villages and attempts made to restore power supply.

A meeting with local charities is planned and teams of officers have been drawn up to ensure that basic services can be provided as soon as possible.

People from local charities distribute food packets and drinking water.

Piles of clothes lie around but there are few takers.

Madhav, a taxi driver, has returned to town hoping to rebuild his life.

"I have lost my children and my wife has taken refuge at a relative's place. I hope my taxi business will pick up again," he says.


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