Thursday, January 7, 2010

POST-TSUNAMI REVIVAL OF IAF STATION AT CAR NICOBAR

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The Indian Air Force's base on the Car Nicobar Island was devastated in the Tsunami five odd years ago from now, on December 26, 2004. One hundred and sixteen IAF officers and men, their wives and children died in the horrendous disaster. Little remained of the air base, which was established as India's southernmost defence post, a sentinel against the unseen forces lurking in the regions nearby. The morning of December 26, changed all that.


In true military spirit, the IAF personnel worked night and day to ensure that India's southernmost Air Force station in the Bay of Bengal was operational again, ‘Combat Fit’ to be precise, just three-and-a-half months after the unbalanced ocean, turned ferocious by man’s inhuman treatment to Mother Nature’s blessings, claimed 3,513 lives in Andaman and Nicobar reducing the base to a wasteland of rubble and corpses.



On April 14, 2005, the Car Nicobar Air Base resumed operations once again. The runway was repaired, navigational aids and the basic infrastructure was put in place. The operational capabilities of the station were back to normal and the station was once again ‘Combat Fit’.


There were no frills, no luxuries and there was every possibility that the officers would continue to fight extreme adversities like they had been doing those past three and a half months. The amenities were very rudimentary but they knew they were working in unusual circumstances 1,300 km from the Indian mainland where the geographical location and the destruction of infrastructure had torn life and affected communication.



Picked up from different air bases in India, they were sent to Car Nicobar immediately after the Tsunami to rebuild the air base from the dust.


Sergeant Y S Sinha, one of the few officers who were still posted at the Car Nicobar Air Base on a second extension until last year i.e. September, 2009, narrated some of his unforgettable experiences to me while I was at Car Nicobar during the Child Led Disaster Risk Reduction (CLDRR) project for the welfare of the Nicobarese tribe, sponsored by the NGO – ‘Save the Children’.


He said that for a first time visitor to the base, the sight could be shocking. The destruction was so overwhelming that just imagining what it must have looked like when the waters raged in on December 26, left you numb. In fact, the scale of the devastation on Car Nicobar Island became most evident only on entering the Air Base because en route all villages had been flattened reducing them to an empty ghost land with sinister boards reading 'Erstwhile Perka, Erstwhile Small Lalpathy, and Erstwhile Malacca.' The Erstwhile, indicated where the villages and their inhabitants once stood and lived.



In fact, the homes in those villages did not have much concrete and were made of wood, so they were completely washed away. Hence, only a few pillars could be seen in the debris, the rest had been flattened,” said Sergeant Sinha.


The Air Base, on the other end of the island, was a full-fledged helicopter station with a huge infrastructure. Around 700 staff and personnel lived there with their families. It had two schools, VIP guest houses for the Air Chief Marshal and other visiting dignitaries, a shopping complex and homes for the Station Commander, officers and airmen.


The concrete rubble, the partially destroyed structures and the 160 acres of land lost to water ingress here had to be seen to understand the quantum of destruction.


After clearing the debris for six months after the disaster, what remained was a chilling reminder of the tragedy. Cars lay in mangled heaps, homes seemed to have been blasted into unrecognizable shapes - second floors flung upside down, blackened trees lying in gigantic tangled piles. A refrigerator flung out of someone's kitchen was now lodged in the branches of a tree.



The author at the 45 feet tall, huge fuel tank lying in Malacca village, where it was thrown by the Tsunami from its original location a kilometer away within the Air Force Station’s premises at Car Nicobar. It was packed with fuel when the Tsunami had struck. Such dreadful was the impact of the Tsunami which was traveling at the speed of about 700 km per hour, the speed of a jetliner from the epicenter of the massive under-water earthquake.


The very first priority was to get the runway working for relief activity and the men made use of whatever came their way - even axes to chop the wood and manually pushed it off the runway.


The 9,000 feet runway originally measured around 3,000 feet when it was constructed by the Japanese during their occupation of the island between 1942 and 1945 during the Second World War. It was taken over by the Indian Air Force in 1956, post independence.


As Sergeant Sinha told me, about forty-five tons of epoxy was used to repair the runway. The repairs began everyday post 4 pm, after the flights for the day ended. The work went on through the night till 4 am. The epoxy needed three hours to dry and the flights resumed at around 7 am.



The Air Base lost 116 officers, men and family to the tsunami. Those who survived were immediately evacuated, given a month's leave and subsequently transferred to other stations. The base was no longer deemed a family station and new officers and men were sent to replace, rebuild and carry out the relief operation Operation Madad (help).


The officers and men got down to clearing the debris, disposing the bodies and spent all their waking hours bringing some semblance of order. The officers and men used to consume rice, dal and vegetables from a common kitchen. Pilots who flew down as part of the relief activity sometimes stayed on to work for a month or so and would feel sad about leaving. The first break from work came on January 16, 2005 when everyone went for a picnic.


At the peak of the relief effort, around 5,000 men were pressed into service. Around 10,000 residents were evacuated during Operation Madad from the Car Nicobar Island. The IAF flew around 226 sorties till January 26, 2005.


As the crisis grew, Heroes were born!


Tributes to the Bravado of the Heroes of Indian Air Force!!!


24 comments:

  1. Nice informative and interesting post....and again thanks for reminding that once there was a disaster scars of which are still unhealed...


    Thanks for rooting for me at indiblogger

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  2. Hi Srinath, I am shocked like anything after reading all these. I think that the 2004 Tsunami has been one of the biggest tragedies of all times. I pray to God that it doesn't ever happen again.

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  3. Real salute to the real heroes.

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  4. @Tarun Mitra You're welcome @Indiblogger! Yes! Five years is too short a length of time for the wounds, left by a catastrophe of such magnitude, to heal.

    In fact, even centuries would not be enough for these almost indelible scars to be erased. Thanks for studying the post, your warm appreciation and for the follow, too, indeed. :)

    @Ashwani Absolutely! You're bang right in saying that it's one of the biggest tragedies of all times, which in fact, is all thanks to man's own hapless misdemeanors. Thanks, indeed, dear Ashwani, for your passionate response to the post.

    @BK Chowla Thanks a bushel, dear Mr. Chowla, for your tributes to the real heroes!

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  5. Dear Shri, once again a nice post from you, really shocking ....anyway its nice to see a phoenix intention right through the ways..

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  6. We cannot imagine how that fuel tank roll over the water...nice photographs..I saw your blog with Comment U back badge, Hopes you will love to see my blog also

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  7. How many Deaths so far..it will be better for us to know all those data to assess, how dreadful situations was that. Also PRAYING THAT TSUNAMI WILL NOT COME AGAIN IN ANY PART OF WORLD

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  8. really lovely and honest blog. It is good to hear about what is going on there from a local person

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  9. @P.Reetha Yes, dear Reetha, every cloud has a silver lining and hence the developments... Thanks for your kind encouraging words!

    @Fengshuimaster It was, indeed, a stupendous statistic, my friend! The impact was, in fact, directly proportional to the speed and mass of the killer waves. I'd love to visit your good blog. See you back, here, soon. Cheers! :)

    @Sakshi Well, the number of deaths, I believe is quite imaginable after reading the graphic details in many of my posts. Nevertheless, I'd soon post further details including those stats, too, for sure. Thank you so much for the kind condolences towards the victims, dear Sakshi!

    @nishitak Thank you so much for your kind & elevating praise! I'd try my best to live up to the raised expectations. Cheers! :)

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  10. Hi Srinath!
    After going through your article i could feel that terible moment that happened 5yrs ago as i myself witnessed those devastations.
    I still could not forget how helplessly i was searching for my friends from among the dead and wished they would become alive.

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  11. Hello,

    I had always a keen interest in knowing about Andaman and Nicobar! And now I have finally found you blog site.would now read and post my questions and comments.Now I am following you also.

    http://meghanaunleashed.blogspot.com/

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  12. @Nisha Hi, dear Nisha! Great to see you in my blog! Who can understand the magnitude, the impact and the aftermath of the hair-raising saga of the dreadful disaster better than you who were right in the middle of it all, there at Car Nicobar.

    Thanks a zillion to the merciful Almighty that my dear classmate and her lovely family came out unharmed, hale and hearty.

    Thanks a ton for dropping in with your valuable comment, dear Nisha! God bless you all! Cheers! :)

    @Meghana It's the truly keen readers like you whom I've been writing my heart out for. It's all for you, dear Meghana! Plz, do post all your questions and comments and I'd love to respond to all.

    And thanks a lot for following the blog, too! Cheers to you! :)

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  13. Hi Shrinath,

    Very nicely put. Makes me feel ever more proud of our air force !

    Thanks a lot for commenting on my blog

    Vijay

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  14. Hi Shrinath,
    Was left spell-bound! Amazing narration.
    Thanks for voting for my blog on Indiblogger, and would be looking for your visits on my blog in the future too!

    BTW, just a suggestion, think about changing the font of the posts, it might help for easier reading...

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  15. @Vijay Thanks very much, dear Vijay and you're welcome, too! :)

    @Aparna Thank you, dear Aparna, for the kind appreciation! Yes, I would like to visit your blog pretty often, now, and you're welcome at Indiblogger!

    About the font, I suppose, it's big and clear enough to make for an easy read. Nevertheless, plz do let me know how is this font difficult to read so that I may think over it. :)

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  16. I had covered the Asian Tsunami from Nagappattinam and had been constantly keeping tabs on the havoc in Andaman and Nicobar islands..chanced upon your blog through indiblogger...

    I had written a piece in 2007 on this...on the day of the third anniversary of the tsunami...when you get time do read...its a journalist's perspective... :) http://wordysketches.blogspot.com/2007/12/3-years-and-horror-still-revisits.html

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  17. Your post and blog have interesting perspective from an area of India that hardly gets represented!

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  18. Hats off to you and your colleagues my friend. We can never forget the service you render to our nation. The Andaman and Nicobar islands were the first part of India to ever taste freedom from the British, when Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose's INA freed the islands and flew the tricolor. He renamed them as Swadesh and Swaraj. One wonders why they were renamed back after freedom. Take care and God Bless!

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  19. this post was really shocking to me, the destruction and the facts stated were un- imaginable

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  20. Mr SHRINATH Kudos for the Wonderful description on the post recovery operations in Car Nicobar Isle, i happened to meet some family in Tsunami camp in Port blair...kudos...if you dont mind i am posting your link as reference to readers of my blog on Andaman visit for getting the real feel of destruction wrought by boxer day Tsunami....http://indiabackpacker.blogspot.com/2008/10/andaman-isle-symbol-of-survival-freedom.html

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  21. @Journomuse:
    That's great, dear friend! Hope you've seen my comment up there on your blog. Keep up the noble work. :-)

    @Saro:
    Thank you, dear Saro! :-)

    @Desi Babu:
    That was the result of ideological disparity amongst the then leaders and their parties, which has always been a very common trend in our country, my friend! Thanks for sharing your good thoughts with us here! :-)

    @We Cognize:
    Hmm...! Thanks, dear Niharika!

    @Deguide:
    That sounds good, dear Mr. Umesh Derebail! Thank you for the kind appreciation and sharing my link at your post in your blog. I've posted my comment up there, as well. Do stay in touch. :-)

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  22. Quite painful to note the destruction. Lived at the location 1963 to 1966, when the runway was paved with cement concrete over the existing surface of asphalt concrete. Hats off to IAF and their engineers.

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  23. Hats off to the brave folks of IAF...have shown the nation the true spirit of the uniform..

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