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Last Updated: Wednesday, 19 January, 2005, 09:31 GMT
New homes for tsunami victims
By Charles Haviland
BBC News, south-east India

Ameenama has come back to her seaside village, Sillari, in the south-eastern state of Tamil Nadu, where she lost five sons and a daughter-in-law, for the first time since the tsunami struck.

Temporary shelter for tsunami-homeless in south east India
Housing is a priority for helping victims return to some sense of normality

Sillari no longer exists and, with the smell of smoke heavy in the air, Ameenama shows me where her various friends and neighbours in this close-knit community lived.

She says she could never live by the sea again. She is afraid even to revisit.

She would like the government to build her a new home in the town to the west, inland.

In terms of tsunami casualties, India was the third-worst affected country, with nearly all the deaths occurring on its south-eastern coast.

In the worst-hit state, Tamil Nadu, more than 140,000 were displaced from their homes.

People there are slowly starting to pick up their lives again and one of the priorities now is finding shelter, both temporary and permanent, for those whose houses were flattened or damaged.

Moving on

In another village, newly orphaned children have lunch in a temporary care centre set up by the Tamil Nadu state government.

Social worker Rita Sujatha says that, like their surviving relatives and neighbours in relief camps, they are sustained by the sense of community here. But they need to move on.

"Relief-wise they are very satisfied with what they are getting," she says.

"But they really need a house to shift into, to restart their day-to-day routine, allow them as a community to grieve - and actually re-new life for themselves."

In the village of Seruthur, situated right on the seashore by a river estuary where 250 houses were washed away, a start is being made in providing shelter.

New temporary dwellings are being built for people to live in for the next six to nine months.

Each can accommodate 12 families in separate self-contained sections.

Massive task

Supriya Sahu, seconded from the state government as a relief work team leader, says the sites are being carefully chosen.

"It should not be very far away but at the same time it should be safer, not too close to the shore," she says.

Scene of devastation left by tsunami in south east India
Areas for rebuilding fishing villages are being carefully selected

To build the shelters quickly, the materials used are all locally available, such as bamboo poles, casuarina poles, eucalyptus poles and light roof material.

After those stopgap dwellings, permanent homes will be needed.

In Karaikal, a formerly French-ruled enclave up the coast, the authorities have decided that in future no-one must live less than 500m from the sea.

Four-and-a-half thousand people will need to be permanently re-housed. Karaikal's administrator, Mr Sundaravadivelu, says each coastal village will have an adjoining fisher folk's township - near the ocean, but not too near.

"It will be a new, self-contained township containing safe houses, places for them to keep their fishing equipment, then other basic amenities like places of religious worship, children's play areas, utility complexes, cyclone shelters," Mr Sundaravadivelu says.

"It will be a fully contained township."

As land is prepared for new homes, the authorities in south India face a massive task.

Some people living quite far from the sea still had their homes badly damaged and complain they are being neglected.

But a start has been made in building new dwellings. And a way of life in which people lived right on the seashore is set to be lost for ever.


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