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Last Updated: Monday, 27 December, 2004, 17:26 GMT
Eyewitness: Andaman tragedy

By Geeta Pandey
BBC News, Andaman and Nicobar Islands

When the disaster struck, I was on my way to Havlock Island, described by Time magazine as one of world's five best beaches.

Port Blair, Andaman and Nicobar islands
Port Blair has been devastated
Our ship had just pulled out from the harbour. I was standing on the front deck, looking around, when suddenly the jetty next to where we had boarded ship, crumpled, and fell into the sea.

A watchtower went down in seconds while the electricity pole took a little longer.

It was an extraordinary sight.

Thankfully, the jetty was deserted at the time and so there were no casualties.

Dozens of people standing alongside me watched open-mouthed.

Thousands missing

It is the first time a tsunami has wreaked such havoc in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.

Officials in the administration say at least 3,000 people have died and a similar number are missing.

Almost 36 hours after the disaster struck, officials say they are yet to establish contact with several islands, giving rise to fears that the toll could go up further.

The Andaman and Nicobar Islands are a collection of hundreds of islands in the Bay of Bengal - 572 if you count during low tide, but only 350-odd when the tide is high. And only 38 of them are inhabited.

Several of these islands have been totally submerged and there is still no contact with Nan Kauri group of islands in the Nicobar region.

These islands have a population of some 18,000 and there is still no word on the status of these people.

Port Blair, Andaman and Nicobar islands
Debris is floating in the water
"The situation is far more serious than we had originally thought," the inspector general of police, Shamsher Bahadur Deol, said.

Officials say Nicobar has been the worst hit by the disaster and since most of the islands are connected only by sea, relief and rescue operations are not easy.

When we reached Havlock Island our ship was not allowed to dock and we were turned away.

Lucky escape

In Port Blair, the capital, hundreds of people have been turned homeless by the earthquake and the subsequent tsunami which has flooded homes in low-lying areas.

One woman, Kakoli Roy, was trying to salvage her belongings from the house which had been partially damaged in the quake.

"A lifetime of acquisitions gone in a few seconds," she told me, tears rolling down her cheeks.

A nine-year-old girl whose house was filled with water and who was almost washed away has been traumatised.

Port Blair, Andaman and Nicobar islands
Tourists are leaving the area
"I thought I was going to drown," she told me.

And every time her parents talk about the incident, she begs them to stop.

"Please don't talk about it any more. I get a headache," she says. "I don't want to sleep. What happens if there's another tremor?" she asks.

I saw at least 250 people who have taken shelter at the Rabindra Bangla Vidyalaya, a school that has been turned into a shelter for the homeless.

Many of them complained that they had not received any help from the administration.

And at the airport in Port Blair, a couple of hundred people waited for more than 13 hours on Monday to get a flight out.

A group of 61 students from a school in Jharkhand state said they hoped to leave on Tuesday.

Suresh Doraiswamy from Chennai told me he was here on honeymoon.

"We were stranded at Havlock with 250 others for 24 hours without any food or water after our hotel resort was flooded... We managed to get one seat on the flight today, so I sent my wife away."




BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
See the devastation caused by the tsunami



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