Cover Story


"Cataclysm" Continued...

Issue: "Tsunami," Jan. 15, 2005

Indians are widely critical of their government for refusing outside help, but officials-resistant to outside aid since colonial times and self-conscious about India's position as an emerging technological and manufacturing giant-steadfastly refuse outside donations. Instead they have relied on the military. Thousands of troops, dozens of helicopters, aircraft, and ships have evacuated some 650,000 people and dropped food packets in affected areas. The Indian government is providing millions in aid to Sri Lanka and the Maldives.

But the self-contained effort is far from perfect. Mr. Sunder said government agents announced they would distribute "survival packets" along Tamil Nadu's coastline but cordoned off villages, including hard-hit Nagapattinam-preventing even Red Cross workers and local charity organizations from entering to assist in other ways. Some police blocked photojournalists from taking pictures. Mr. Sunder went anyway, using his status as a local to bypass the authorities. He and his wife set up a relief tent just outside the barriers. "When I would come upon a man or woman looking lost or dazed I would ask, 'Did you lose your home or your family?' When they told me, 'Sir, I lost everything,' I would point to the relief tent and say, 'Go there. You will find food, water, and other things you will need.'" Next Mr. Sunder plans to provide fishing nets and small boats to help fishermen recover their livelihoods.


Convoys loaded with food, water, cooking utensils, sleeping mats, and sanitary supplies rolled out from the offices of the National Christian Evangelical Association of Sri Lanka (NCEASL) just hours after general secretary Godfrey Yogarajah wrote: "The destruction is indescribable, there is deep sorrow, shock and despair and fear among the people."

Sri Lanka's death toll stands at over 30,000-second-highest after Indonesia-and its homeless number near 1 million. Rescue and restoration efforts are hampered by politics. Uncleared landmines float in the fetid backwash, a reminder of the country's 20-year running civil war. Before the disaster, militant Buddhism was on the rise; 200 churches were attacked. Mr. Yogarajah, whose group represents more than 200,000 evangelical Christians, made a plea for "medicines, doctors and medical teams, drinking water, food, clothing, and shelter" but acknowledged that many roads remain impassable and train lines damaged. Good news in the crisis: Sri Lanka's feared Tamil Tigers, boasting one of the oldest and best-financed suicide terror squads in the world, have laid aside grievances with the government-even sharing office space-to repair the island nation.


Attention to the highly publicized tourist losses in Thailand has overshadowed sweeping tragedies for many local Thai villages, according to Andrew Dircks, vicar of Christ Church, Bangkok. Mr. Dircks visited Phuket last week after spending many hours consoling foreign survivors from the resort area, mostly Westerners on a holiday, who showed up in Bangkok's hospitals.

In all, 21 European countries report people dead or missing, mainly in Thailand. Swedish officials believe their death toll could exceed 1,000; Germany has confirmed 60 dead in Thailand and more than 1,000 missing. Norway reports at least 21 dead and 500 missing. With many bodies washed out to sea or badly decomposed, the task of identifying remains-particularly across international lines and diplomatic channels-is increasingly improbable.

That said, Mr. Dircks was unprepared for the complete devastation to local rural villages along the way to the resorts. In many areas, he said, "substantial portions of the missing are not found yet. They are in jungles, mangroves, or washed out to sea."

At one village of 107 homes, "all the houses are gone and only about one-fourth of the people are alive," Mr. Dircks told WORLD after his return to Bangkok. In Phuket a new preschool opened on Christmas Day and was rubble the day after. To understand the devastation not only in Thailand but also around the Indian Ocean, he said, "I multiply whatever I see by 10,000."

As in other hard-hit areas, aid (clothing especially) is readily available-particularly for the tourist spots-but hard to distribute. The government, according to Mr. Dircks, wants to put tourism on its feet as soon as possible. That leaves other areas "very substantially ignored," he said-and prompted his congregation to adopt several villages, rebuilding up to 300 houses using local technology and local, Thai-speaking volunteers. Members of the church-a mixture of Thai-speaking and English-speaking congregants dating back to 1861-are committed to rebuilding every home. "But of course we won't need to reconstruct all the houses because there are no longer so many people in these areas," he said.


Indonesia's separatist elements declared a ceasefire to ease relief efforts. But it will take more than internecine peace to heal the country, where at least 94,000 perished. "Supplies are plentiful," reported Kie Eng Go, project coordinator for Jubilee Campaign, from Sumatra last week. "The challenge is deploying them and coordinating volunteers." Not a relief agency per se, the group finds itself distributing aid after establishing a network five years ago to monitor religious liberty and assist children orphaned by Muslim-Christian conflict. Meanwhile, the U.S. military dominates relief efforts, distributing most of its initial half-million tons of relief supplies to Sumatra via the USS Abraham Lincoln stationed just offshore.


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