Ezhumalai grieved when he lost his 11-year-old son in the tsunami,but he was not scared. He is scared now,after witnessing the fury of Cyclone Thane,the very severe tropical storm that devastated his coastal hamlet in Cuddalore district within a few hours on Friday.
The fisherman has lived with water and waves all his life,but had never seen a storm like Thane. And,he realises,the chances of another Thane striking are probably more than those of another tsunami.
Devanampet village now lies under tonnes of debris. Roads and streets are smothered by fallen trees,leaves and waste. Houses that are still standing have no roofs over them. Fishing boats are lying several hundred metres inland from the shores,some on top of others. There is no power or drinking water. For hundreds of fisherpeople families,life has been completely wrecked.
The oldest men in our village say they had never seen a storm like this one, said K Kandan,two of whose three boats were damaged,one very badly. Kandans home is on the verge of collapse,and all furniture and household appliances are spoilt.
Village residents said the rain came first,on Thursday evening. In the wee hours of Friday,as the cyclone made landfall between Cuddalore and Pondicherry,the whistling sound grew in strength until it became a roar. It was unimaginable,we were paralysed by fear. Even the tsunami was not this bad, said Elai,a fisherwoman who lives close to the sea.
The village of about 4,000 inhabitants will probably take a while to return to normalcy. Boats and engines will have to be repaired,nets replaced. Houses will have to be rebuilt. It will take a long time, said E Aruldoss,who lost his boat,but whose house was saved from major damage by bigger structures nearby.
Seven years ago,Devanampet lost 90 lives to the tsunami. But in terms of the destruction caused,Thane has been worse. This was more destructive. The tsunami killed,but Thane has wrecked lives completely, said G Dandapani,a priest at a local temple.
On Saturday,all of Cuddalore district was cut off by fallen trees and broken electric and telephone poles. Roads that were opened had been blocked by residents protesting lack of government aid.
The situation is similar in Pondicherry. Thousands of trees have been uprooted,and there is no power. The pretty picture that Pondicherry evoked has been spoilt,and it will be years before a restoration happens,said residents.