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Last Updated: Friday, 7 January, 2005, 17:45 GMT
Nicobars find the force is with them

By Subir Bhaumik
BBC News, Car Nicobar island

Destroyed records office in Car Nicobar
Indian air force staff carry out relief work on Car Nicobar
Car Nicobar base commander Group Capt Ravi Dhar was flown in to replace his colleagues.

They had lost everything when the tsunami hit, including family members, but, says Capt Dhar, they continued to work ceaselessly under great stress.

All but six of the men here at the time have been pulled out.

The new commander now overseas the flights supplying Car Nicobar's runway "day and night".

It is part of an unprecedented relief effort for this southern part of the Andamans archipelago, the part worst hit by December's tsunami.

For us this is a war to save lives rather than take lives
Brig Devadoss

Seven ships have been making round trips to the islands since the jetties have been repaired.

The Indian air force has flown 50 sorties a day using its Russian-made transport aircraft.

A part of the runaway was damaged by the tsunami, but the planes have kept coming.

Captain Dhar says that since the air traffic building was also badly damaged, they have been operating a portable air traffic control on a pick-up truck.

Most of the airmen and officers live in tents on the edge of the runaway, their living quarters destroyed on Car Nicobar beach.


Brig James Devadoss is in charge of the overall relief effort in the Nicobar islands.

Map of Andaman and Nicobar Islands, showing Port Blair and Campbell Bay

"For us this is a war to save lives rather than take lives," he says.

According to Brig Devadoss, more than 2,000 tonnes of relief - from bottled water to medicines to foodstuff to generator sets and fuel - have landed at Car Nicobar and Campbell Bay, the two relief hubs in the Nicobar islands.

Eight of the 14 villages on Car Nicobar have been totally destroyed.

Soldiers and local volunteers are still cremating dead bodies.

The 11km road from Car Nicobar to Muse had to be reconstructed in four days. The smell along the way was foul.

"I found 22 dead bodies in one village alone during a search operation," says Wing Cdr Onkar Singh.

"In Car Nicobar alone, we have cremated more than 400 people and the cremations are still going on," says Brig Devadoss.

Other military officials here have said the deaths will be in thousands rather than hundreds.

Government aid

The Nicobarese tribesmen, worst hit by the tsunami, have fled to higher ground overlooking the beaches.

Villagers in Car Nicobar
Villagers in Car Nicobar are rebuilding as best they can

"We will have to settle away from the coast," says fisherman Matthew, as he tries to repair his damaged bicycle.

In relief camps, aid efforts are making a difference.

"We are getting enough food and water, but we do not know how long this will go on," says Phillip, from Malacca village.

Malacca's tribal elder is Herbert San, known locally as Captain.

"We lost all our money and belongings. The government will have to rehabilitate us from scratch," he says.

All these villagers are eagerly waiting for an announcement of the government's rehabilitation policy for tsunami victims.

India's junior home minister, SP Jaiswal, has said it will be announced by mid-January.

By then, he says, the relief situation should have stabilised.


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