When 48-year-old Suresh Saha and his family left for the Andaman and Nicobar Islands on November 30, they did not know their annual vacation would turn into a harrowing experience. A group of 13 adults and two 5-year-olds from North-24 Parganas, the family was one of many that landed in Port Blair for their winter holidays.
The Sahas returned to Kolkata on Friday after being stuck in a storm for the last three days. The group belonged to the fortunate few who, while stranded, did not require evacuation by the Navy. By Friday evening, the Navy, with the help of a few private ships, had evacuated 2,376 tourists stranded on Havelock and Neil islands — the two islands worst affected by the cyclonic depression that had hit the area a few days ago. The Navy commenced rescue operations earlier in the morning after the storm seemed to abate.
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Six Navy ships (Karmukh, Kumbhir, Bitra, Baratang, LCU and LCU 38), two ICG ships and three Air Force MI-17 V5 helicopters left for Havelock at 9.30 am. Weather conditions had prevented the Navy from carrying out rescue operations earlier, and the ships had remained docked at Port Blair, said Navy officials.
Air Force choppers carried out 14 sorties, rescuing 230 passengers from Havelock. Three sorties were carried out from Neil with 65 stranded tourists. The rest of the tourists were evacuated by sea — 643 from Havelock and another 224 from Neil. Private ships pitched in and helped evacuate 741 tourists. Among those rescued were 12 foreign nationals — two Germans, Italians and Latvians, one Israeli and Irish and four from Spain. Lt Governor Jagdish Mukhi said there was no reports of any untoward incident and loss of life or property.
“It was the scariest experience in my life. I have never seen anything like it. We reached the islands on November 30 and the first part of our tour went well. By December 6, we had visited Havelock and returned, otherwise we would also have been stranded. We were at Magabandar when the storm hit, and were staying at Priya International. Our rooms were were shaking. We though the hotel would be swept away,” said Pushpa Saha. Her husband, Suresh Saha, said the family had made several attempts to leave.
“When we went to Bakultala and met the panchayat pradhan and the zilla parishad leader, they told us to leave as soon as possible. They warned us of areas where crocodiles had washed up, and said a man had been dragged out to sea by a crocodile the day before. The water was waist-high. Fire brigade and forest officials, police and power department personnel were working round-the-clock to keep the damage to a minimum. They all told us while storms were normal, this was unexpected and unusually strong,” said Suresh.