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Last Updated: Sunday, 2 January, 2005, 14:26 GMT
Swept out to sea, unable to swim and survived
The BBC's Sunil Raman
By Sunil Raman
BBC News, Thanjavur, Tamil Nadu

Tsunami survivor Lokesh Pillai
Lokesh Pillai clung to a bamboo pole for hours
I met Lokesh Pillai, a student from Nagpur, Maharashtra, now recovering from a leg fracture at Thanjavur Medical College Hospital.

Lokesh was at the Christian pilgrim centre of Velanganni when the tsunami struck.

Swept into the sea, he did not know how to swim. But he survived to tell his story and how he was saved by a boy and a girl. This is his story:

At about 0800 on 26 December, our family decided to go for a swim.

Twenty of us were on our annual pilgrimage to Velanganni. We came to worship "Mata" [Virgin Mary].

A huge wave came, it was very strong... like the Hindu serpent god, Seshnag

It was a lovely morning. Hundreds of people were on the beach. Some were enjoying the surf while others shopped for curios. It was the day after Christmas.

I was not in a mood to enter the sea. I sat on the side with a male cousin watching the others enjoy themselves.

Suddenly a storm came, but we kept sitting there...

First our slippers were swept away. But we did not move.

Then a huge wave came. It was very strong... it was like the Hindu serpent god, Seshnag. It was tall and wide and kept stinging with enormous force.

Cries and chaos

I was swept into the sea. For four-and-a-half hours or so I was in the water - and I cannot swim.

I fractured my leg when the first wave threw me down. But I had managed to grab one of the many bamboo sticks that were used to build the curio shops.

There was no-one except me in that jungle, no-one came to help
I held on to that bamboo stick and kept floating. There was chaos all around. Everyone was crying for help.

Some boats came to help us but they in turn were sunk. I could not see anything clearly. I could only see the cross.

I had given up hope. I was lucky to have survived. After over fours of moving up and down with the current, I was thrown out by the waves into a jungle, 2km from Velanganni. Every moment was a fight for survival.

More waves again flung me, but I managed to grab a tree trunk.


I was shivering and my clothes were gone. I held on to it with all my might.

There was no-one except me in that jungle. No-one came to help.

Map showing Tamil Nadu and Velanganni
Finally, a boy came and took me to his village. He was a godsend. I could not walk and he took me on his shoulders. His sister, Viji, took me to Turukundi hospital.

I then gathered strength to call my family in Nagpur.

I had given up hope. I thought my entire family was killed by the wave.

When I called Nagpur I was told that all but four of us had managed to escape.

Every moment was a fight with death. I just grabbed the bamboo stick. Even when the waves struck, I just kept my head above water. My body had gone numb.

Within seconds, hundreds of beach stalls were swept away. They just vanished before my eyes.

People were washed away... they kept crying for help. I just managed to keep my head above water.

I am lucky to have survived.


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