Tsunami was like an island sinking: Air force officer

New Delhi, Dec 26 (IANS) Ten years after the tsunami which killed thousands, memories remain fresh for an Indian Air Force officer then posted at Car Nicobar island. He says the incident felt as if the island was sinking.

Air Commodore B.S. Krishna Kumar was posted at the Air Force Base at Car Nicobar, which is situated northernmost point of the Nicobar islands.
“We had Christmas celebrations, and as the next day was Sunday, we planned to get up late…But I was woken up by my wife who said there was an earthquake,” Krishna Kumar said after Air Force chief Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha released a book penned by Air Commodore Nitin Sathe on the incidents around and after the tsunami at Car Nicobar.
Krishna Kumar’s account is one of the many in the book.
The book details the ordeals, eye-witness accounts, and the difficulties of rebuilding the Air Force Base where dead bodies were surfacing day after day, there was no drinking water, and supply of electricity only limited.
Krishna Kumar, recollecting the memories of the day, said: “I would have ignored it thinking it was just a small tremor, but it did not stop. We tried to get out of the house but we were being thrown wall-to-wall.”
When his family managed to get out of the house, and the tremor subsided, they thought the worst was over.
“But the worst was yet to come,” he said.
Krishna Kumar recounts that someone noticed the sea receding from the officer’s mess.
“My wife also noticed it, we decided to run for the air strip which was on higher ground,” the officer told IANS.
“No one knew it was tsunami. We thought that the coral island had split into two and was sinking,” said the officer, explaining about the moment they saw a wall of water.
Krishna Kumar was one of the first officers to get air borne to inspect the situation, when he took off in an MI8 helicopter.
The officer, with his co-pilot rescued several marooned people.
According to air force officials, 116 people, including officers, staff and family members lost their lives on the island.
“We found some bodies, they were decomposing fast, so we had to burn them. Since we did not have enough wood, we used aircraft fuel to burn them,” said Krishna Kumar, who was looking grief-stricken while recounting the story.
“I lost all my belongings, but I did not lose anything because my family was safe. People lost their loved ones,” he added.
Sathe, who took charge of rebuilding the base and arrived on the island Jan 1, 2005, has equally horrifying accounts to narrate.
“Dead bodies surfaced under the wreckage now and then. Everything was destroyed. The whole island looked ransacked,” Sathe told IANS.
“There was no drinking water, it was initially brought by helicopters, and later by ships. Electricity was available only for a few hours as we had small generators,” he said.
However, after ten years, the base is once again settled and built up.
“The whole coastline has gone after the tsunami. So, we have moved in the interior of the island,” he said, adding several measures have been taken to ensure the base remains safe.
Releasing the book, the air force chief lauded the role of the Indian Air Force in disasters, and added that India is now better equipped to handle such disasters.
“As a country, we have improved a lot in handling such disasters, which are frequent,” said Raha.