Tsunami warning triggers panic

PORT BLAIR: Indian authorities speeded up yesterday the search for thousands missing in the remote Andaman islands as aid workers across the country struggled to bring relief to the living and fears of a new tsunami sent people fleeing in panic. 

Massive aerial reconnaissance was underway to find people still alive on the isolated chain of islands, home to endangered tribal people, that lie near the epicentre of Sunday's earthquake. 

The tsunamis which killed over 80,000 people across Asia left an estimated Andaman death toll of 4,000 out of India's rising toll of 10,850. 

But thousands are still missing on the islands and on the mainland and many dead remained unrecorded in the race to bury corpses. 

FILLING STOMACH: An aid agency distributing rice in Pudukuppum, Tamil Nadu where hundreds of thousands have been displaced by the tsunami.--APpic

Warnings by authorities that high waves could strike again yesterday sent thousands fleeing in panic from the coastline in the Andamans capital, Port Blair, and India's tsunami-battered southern mainland. 

In Port Blair, the lieutenant governor and his family dashed for higher ground in their official cars. 

People also fled the coast further south in Kerala state after chief minister Oommen Chandy said the government had information the sea could rise. 

The warnings to pull back from the coast came as furious efforts got underway to dispose of decomposing corpses in the tropical heat in view of epidemic fears, with workers fumigating roads. 

The stench of death hung over beaches and villages reduced to a mess of debris. Some boats flung from beaches lay atop flattened dwellings. 

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, meanwhile, joined the frontline of relief work in areas devastated by a tidal wave, as troops, ships and aircraft were deployed in southern India. 

Some areas were getting aid but other more isolated communities complained that help was slow to reach. 

In the meantime, an embarrassing picture emerged in the media yesterday of how India's bureaucracy bungled the first alerts of the tsunami, losing precious time that might have saved lives. 

India's air force was warned that a remote base on Car Nicobar islands had been flooded well before the giant waves hit the mainland coast hundreds of kilometres away on Sunday morning, the Indian Express said. 

On the civilian side, the Meteorological Department sent a warning fax out to the former science minister and not to the incumbent. 

India now has said it would install systems to detect tsunamis at the cost of US$27mil (RM102.6mil). – AFP  


For another perspective from The Straits Times, a partner of Asia News Network, click here.

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