Snakes and crocodiles add to fears of villagers sleeping in muddy wasteland

Click to follow
The Independent Online

It's the first thing you see before you reach the ruins of the village: hundreds or people huddled together, trying to sleep on a muddy expanse of waste ground.

It's the first thing you see before you reach the ruins of the village: hundreds or people huddled together, trying to sleep on a muddy expanse of waste ground.

They sleep out here because this is the furthest point from the sea in Chidambaram. Almost none of the houses are fit to live in any more. Some were swept away by the tsunami, others are on the point of collapse. But no one has brought any shelter for the survivors here. There are no tents, not even a flimsy piece of tarpaulin.

The ground they lie on is a mix of mud and sand. The nights are hot but they huddle close together. Mothers with broken-looking eyes keep their children close. This is not a good place to be on your own at night. There are snakes and crocodiles, and robbers out after dark - not that these people have anything left to steal.

Vanmethi looks after her three sisters. She is just 13 years old but she is all they have left now. The girls' parents were both killed in the tsunami. So were their aunts and uncles.

Vanmethi does not have time to grieve. She must be a mother to her sisters, Sohandravlai, seven, Jayanthi, four, and Adilaskhmi, three. There is no refuge for orphans here. No one has come from the government to offer them a place in an orphanage.

These are the forgotten victims. While aid has been rushed to the worst hit towns, here in the remote fishing villages it seems it is taking forever to arrive. There is no clean drinking water here. Every three days a tanker arrives with water for washing only. Except nobody washes here because they only get enough water to drink, and there is no other water. Every day the temperature hovers around 30C.

Venmethi and her sisters spend their days in their ruined little house. There is nothing left inside and the house looks as if it may collapse at any moment. It's too risky to spend the nights here, so the girls sleep out on the waste ground with everyone else.

They were in this house when the tsunami came. They heard the noise of the wave and ran, but their parents, who were by the water waiting for the fishing boats to come in, were killed.

There are 74 orphans here. We know because a local businessman, Kananadi, has kept meticulous records. Figures like these aren't available from the government. From his records, we know that 102 people died here, and 385 houses were destroyed.

"The government is only doing 10 per cent of the work of helping people," he says. "Water is the main problem. We get food, but not from the government. NGOs are distributing food, but it's only enough to eat twice a day."

In Chidambaram night is drawing in. The people huddle together. They will have to go on helping each other. There is no one else to look after them.

Comments