By - Kamal Baruah
They’re always ready for action and their journeys always filled with joys in despair that lead to destination. They move bases one after another frequently that only people in the military will understand what TDs (Temporary Duty) are all about. They’re forced to embrace such reality and their kit bags always came first for another move that survive military for any adventure at worst. By doing so, he encountered the most dreadful day at Car Nic, a lesser known island of Andaman and Nicobar where a few are only inhabited. His ideas of islands were a few dots while drawing India map on schooldays. It was a mistaken belief as islands are quite large where even commercial flights run between Port Blair and Campbell Bay via Car Nicobar.
Sundays are usually meant to be a day of rest for men in blue. They were lazily lounging on the 1st floor watching scenic beauty of rising and falling of the sea. He sat sipping tea at 08:30 morning on that fateful Boxing Day beside the sandy, stony, rocky land with the wind driven waves of sea. It was seen peace, calm and sanity as the seashore was remote from the usual tourist routes. His friend a photography enthusiast was capturing the long high tides while a few tourists were sea bathing. Tidal waves were at times gentle but he realised that waves were not caused by gravitational interactions between the Sun, moon and Earth. Something went wrong when he gradually observed into the series of waves and it really crept into his thought.
Suddenly the ocean waves became violent. It was tsunami sending powerful blow to the islands thirty minutes after an earthquake under Indian Ocean at West Coast of Sumatra Indonesia. They heard shouts & cries in despair and people ran for safety. Within a short period, everything washed away by series of rising waves of 100 feet height of a large volume of turbulent water that continued for hours. They were literally swimming inside the building like the sinking Titanic with no immediate clues in mind. Over the course of few hours, people perished while running towards high ground. Localities miraculously survived by taking refuge in trees, floating on debris or piece of wood on a desperate act. The scale of the devastation was very high in single story residential quarters. They swam ashore trapped inside the mess for several hours until floodwaters had receded.
It drags victim’s mind to the grim reality of how much havoc the fury of nature can create while surviving the tsunami. It was a lifeline occurrence of hairline survival of life from the jaws of death. Survivors were enveloped by shock as there was no disaster planning for life boat. They’re fortunate to survive unhurt from the curse of the tsunami. Seven years later another tsunami wave in 2011, after Tohoku earthquake swept away Japan NE Coast. Tsunami is a worldwide natural phenomenon that occurs frequently as a result of minor earthquake because of seismic and volcanic activity associated with tectonic plate. The memories are refusing to die away. The echoes of that morning continued to reverberate throughout their lives where the islands have historical significance.
Car Nic was once under Japanese occupation during 1942-45. The bitumen runway was built during world war and then British Royal Air Force used it as refuelling base for Colombo and Singapore. After tsunami, it remained little for India’s southernmost defence establishment of Indian Air Force; a sentinel lives with a lurking fear of enemy’s misadventure in the Indian Ocean. The morning of December 26, 2004 had changed the entire Air Base into wreckage. The ocean tides claimed 3,500 live including 180 IAF personnel. There was nothing left on the surface except a layer of sandstone in wilderness. It completely washed away and only a few pillars were seen in debris, flattening the entire base.
The tsunami was a result of a mega thrust of 9.1 at Richer Scale, the highest rating had ever in recent history. The death toll in India alone is above 18,000 where Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh were worst affected. The resulting tsunami wrecked great misery along the Coromandel Coast. Indian Ocean Tsunami killed more than 1.5 lakh people and made millions homeless, making it perhaps one of the most destructive tsunami in history. It slammed into the coastline of eleven Indian Ocean countries, snatching people out to sea, drowning beaches and demolishing property from Africa to Thailand. Since Car Nic has an extensive span of sea on all sides it experienced intense damage to the coastline reaching several hundred metres deep into the island.
God spares Noah, his family and animals by the vessel in the genesis flood narrative of Noah’s Ark. Sadly, Islanders’ prayers were not blessed to live through one of nature’s most powerful disasters. It was so devastating that silenced peoples’ emotion after the grief went worse. Survivors had been in fear and trembling, waiting for an airlift to the Indian mainland away by 1300 km. Hundreds of air sorties were made for rescue operation of more than one hundred thousand people under mission “Operation Sea Waves” and “Operation Madad” by the Air Force, Navy and Coast Guard. This writer recalled the silence of death as survivors were broken by cries and sobs after pulling through intense and profound fear.