Those eight minutes

Published : Jan 28, 2005 00:00 IST

in Arattupuzha

HOW does it feel when a tsunami hits you head on? Prakasan, a fisherman-turned-shopkeeper from Valiazheekkal, a strip of land on the edge between the Arabian Sea and the Kayamkulam lake, had such an encounter with a deadly wave. Prakasan lives in a small terraced house where the lake meets the sea. His home is the first in a row that bore the brunt of the tsunami wave as it entered the mineral-rich Arattupuzha village. The following account has been translated from his native fishfolk Malayalam:

The sea brimmed over and withdrew thrice here at Valiazheekkal before the big wave. It washed my feet the first time; then came up knee-high. The third time, I was hip-deep in water. Thrice when it withdrew, we saw the breakwater rise from the ocean, and huge fish jumping about in the estuary that then looked like a small stream. We were not alarmed. The danger, if at all, had to come from the tide. But there was no tide. It was like a phenomenon that came without the tide. Nobody knows why.

By 12.40 in the afternoon, there was a shout. The breakwater suddenly disappeared. The giant crane used to move boulders up on the breakwater too vanished. Within seconds the water rushed in. My brother! It swept me off my feet in the first giant push itself.

We all know how the sea comes in. We are so used to it. But it has never done anything like this before. That demon thrust... it was swirling, sucking everything. It crumbled and crushed the whole lot on its path. I was in the shop, at one end of my house. It was a dizzying swirl. The rush of water pushed me into the corner and then the water began to rise. As I am a good swimmer I could stay afloat. It lifted me to the roof and tried to suffocate me. It pushed me with an awesome force. I was trying hard to get a breath of air. Then, at that moment, the northern wall of the shop broke and the sea eddied out with everything inside. For a moment, I tried to stay afloat. But the next surge shoved me towards the eastern lake.

In front of the house, my relatives were clinging to the trees. The water level was about 10 to 12 feet high. The entire drama lasted 15 minutes. The high-flood must have been there for about eight minutes, perhaps.

This water makes a loud sound as it comes in. I could not hear people shouting at me. It flows through the trees and the leaves with a kilu-kila, kilu-kila (jingling) sound. It makes such a big ruckus that you can't hear anyone at all. It is so loud. I think it is the pace of the water that causes such a sound. My God, was it fast!

Had it occurred during night, none of us would be alive today. We would jump out one by one to inspect what was wrong and would be swept away. Rescue would be impossible at night. My neighbours who came to save my wife and sister barely survived. They are alive because they caught hold of a tree. They were helpless themselves. Their homes were toppled and carried away. Brick structures vanished, just like that.

My shop literally flew away. Everything, whether it be stone or sand... they just flew away. Every damn thing was being swirled and rolled in a brick-red, dark, giant flood. It was all over me. I couldn't breathe. Fortunately, it lasted only for a few minutes. By then the wall broke. I was pushed out and escaped. Otherwise... .

But then, when it took me, I didn't try to resist, or cling to the ground. I floated. I let it carry me. In two seconds I was at the eastern end. I didn't feel like going further. So I caught hold of some tree or shrub. It held. Or I would have been somewhere beyond, in the lake, perhaps.

After some time the water just stood still for a while at about 10 to 12 feet. There was no movement... Then it drained away slowly. In half an hour it withdrew completely. The world that you see around you is its handiwork in just eight minutes. How can we explain what happened? Neither my father nor my grandfather has ever told me anything about tsunami. I have never heard of such a phenomenon before.

I lost my livelihood. My shop was washed away. I lost my stock and a lot of money. But we didn't lose our lives. The sea put us into a lot of trouble, that was all.

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