- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 30, 2004


PUDUKUPPUM, India — As the Indian government warned yesterday that there could be fresh tsunamis because of new quakes, villagers in this southern Indian village grabbed what they could and fled to higher ground. Soldiers, wearing surgical masks and digging for bodies, clambered into their trucks and drove to safety.

But in less than an hour, the villagers began wandering back to protect what was left of their homes. Although many said they were still afraid of the sea, they wanted to continue the search for the missing.

As they dug through the debris, mostly palm fronds used to thatch the roofs of their homes, they kept a wary eye on the sea for any sign that the waves would return.

“The ocean scares me. I feel crazy, I don’t know what to do, where to go,” said Rajesh, a 30-year-old fisherman who uses only one name.

The tsunami warning expired at 6 p.m. without any fresh waves.

• • •

MALE, Maldives — Being the world’s lowest-lying country actually might have spared the Maldives from the worst of the damage caused by the Sunday tsunami, some Maldivian officials think.

Because the average height of the archipelago is 3 feet above sea level, the tsunami swept completely over many of its 1,190 tiny coral islands. But because the Maldives isn’t a tall landmass, the wave didn’t gain height as it approached land and didn’t break with devastating force, as it did on the shores of neighboring Sri Lanka and India.

Witnesses reported waves of up to several yards in height — much less than the 30 feet seen elsewhere — and most islands experienced a massive swell in the sea rather than a wall of water crashing down.

That meant casualties and damage, while considerable, were less than in neighboring countries. Seventy-three persons had been confirmed dead and 31 were missing as of late yesterday.

“We’ve wondered for years what would happen if a tsunami came to the Maldives. Now we know — the energy and height don’t build when the wave contacts the islands, so it gets dissipated through the chain,” said Ismail Firag, deputy director at the Tourism Ministry, who studied tsunamis in Fiji.

“A tsunami gains height and becomes most dangerous when it crashes into land. That didn’t happen so much here — it just passed over,” said Joerg Limper, general manager of the 156-room Full Moon resort on Furana Fushi island, which was swamped by the wave but suffered no human casualties and continued to operate.

• • •

KHAO LAK, Thailand — Amid all the death, a stretch of road near one of Thailand’s most famous tourist areas was buzzing with activity.

Police tried to stop the curious heading into a region torn apart by the Sunday tsunami as electricians worked among fallen trees to fix power lines.

Donated clothes and bottles of water were piled up at restaurants along the road.

Near a hospital, German firefighters helped their Thai counterparts drain a large pool to see whether any dead are hidden in its murky depths.

Volunteers crisscrossed the two-lane road carrying the bodies of victims to one of three pagodas where Thai and international teams will collect the data that they hope eventually will help identify the remains.

The activity took place against an apocalyptic backdrop of blasted-out windows, gutted hotels and pieces of wood piercing the earth like shards of glass.

But there also were glimpses of life as it had been before — idyllic beaches with calm water, monks chanting at a pagoda and a truckload of watermelons that give hope that things will return to how they once had been.

• • •

PATONG BEACH, Thailand — For some tourists yesterday, the tragedy was becoming a memory, albeit a vivid one, as they made the most of the weather and touched up their tans, an Internet news site reported.

Many in bathing suits and bikinis, they lounged on sun beds and took a dip in the water that had claimed so many lives a few days earlier, according to the Advertiser (www.theadvertiser.news.com.au).

As many Westerners waited for news of missing loved ones, others arrived to take holidays as usual.

Engineer Paul Cunliffe of England arrived on an almost-empty flight from Malaysia. Gin and tonic in hand, Mr. Cunliffe said he and two friends were booked into a beachfront hotel that had escaped serious damage and had been assured of a “wonderful holiday,” the Advertiser reported.

“Our friends think we’re mad. The only risk we face I think is if there’s another quake. We love the place that much, and we thought we would take the risk,” he said.

On Sunday, Patong beach was hit by a wall of water that claimed at least 120 lives.

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