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Tuesday 11 January 2005

An Eyewitness Account from the Andaman's

Peeya's tsunami experience! - 11th January report on REDIFF.COM

After finishing shooting for an English film, 'Truck Of Dreams' actress Peeya Rai Choudhury went off with a group of friends to holiday in the Andamans on December 18.

On December 26, when the Tsunami struck, she was sleeping peacefully on an island named Savi, along with seven others. Here is her first hand account of that experience:

At 6.30 am, my friends and I were sleeping in our tents, when the earth shook beneath us and we realised it was an earthquake. For a full minute, we felt it move. Then, after a pause, there was another tremor that lasted another minute. We got up and ran towards our dinghy. The boat was in the water. The tide was high but it receded quickly and the boat was stuck in the sand!

The tide was coming in and out in a minute -- it was so quick! The dinghy took some of my friends to the mainland while I waited, with a few others, for it to return. While I was sitting on the beach, I noticed these whirlpools in the water -- as if the water was being sucked inwards -- like when you flush a tank!

I couldn't figure what was happening, but there was a strange movement as if the sea was in an upheaval of some kind. Water was rushing into these whirlpools and this aquamarine green, beautiful sea that I had been seeing all these days was suddenly brown. The ocean was churning out all this muck!

Another strange thing was that the waves were not crashing on the island, but were moving away parallel to the beach. It was a crazy, inexplicable movement. There must be some scientific reason behind it, but I couldn't understand it.

One of my friends was still sleeping in the tent. Here we were, marooned on an island, early in the morning with no clue as to what was happening. We figured that an earthquake had happened somewhere, and we gathered that it happened in the ocean bed because of the way the water was behaving. But we had no idea of the magnitude of the devastation that had happened.

So unaware were we that we actually ventured into the sea in the middle of all this in a small fisherman's boat! At 7.30 am, I was back on the sea, going to the mainland. The fishermen were freaking out, telling us to hurry before the tide went crazy again. Only one man, the caretaker, was left on the island. He was a government servant, so he had to wait for orders. He was picked up only later. It was a miracle when I hear of so many people dying; so much devastation.

We reached the mainland, which was 45 minutes by boat. We were stuck there for three days, after which we reached Port Blair where we really understood what had happened. The media had reached within hours of the event, and we were interviewed. I was too stunned to take pictures of what I saw. We were stuck for three days without food and water, no electricity, nothing!

Someone had a radio and we heard bits and pieces of news and tried to figure out the situation.

We waited for the naval ships to pick us up. We were in tents in the garden of the government guesthouse because there was no room. That was at a height so it seemed safe. Port Blair had a lot of devastation. In fact, a friend of mine had invested all his earnings in a resort in Havelock Island, the main tourist island and now, his resort is gone! It was heartbreaking. He was howling. It was traumatic watching how helpless we are in the face of something that we couldn't even understand.

Here, we could see the extent of the damage.The restaurants by the beaches had gone. There was this man who had the oldest running restaurant in Port Blair, called Lighthouse, and it doesn't exist anymore! The port had huge cracks going into the earth forever.

I spoke to a geography professor who told me that what I saw -- the quick coming and going of tides -- was a movement of the tsunami. Where I was watching it, it was moving eastwards. We had been traveling the islands, we didn't stay at one place. There are 300 islands, and we were travelling by ship from island to island. We went there on December 18. The island where we were was called Savi and was three kilometres long and one kilometre wide. We stayed there on the night of the earthquake.

When one looks back at what happened, it was our very ignorance of what was happening that allowed us to dare move into the sea in a fisherman's boat. All we knew then was that we couldn't stay on the island, so we went to the mainland.

When we reached Port Blair, we realised that tourists were being evacuated as fast as possible because they were a liability for the government which had to focus on the residents and the devastation they were facing. Port Blair was ruined, everything was in pieces -- hotels on the seaface just vanished. People's livelihood just disappeared. It was unbelievable!

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