First rays of sun were peeping in slowly. Birds had started chirping. At 6.00 AM on 26th December 2004 Port Blair the Capital city of Andaman and Nicobar Islands was waking up to a bright Saturday morning .
Balcony attached to our first floor bedroom offered a captivating sea view. The backwaters were almost like a lake- 500 meters wide. On the other end of the lake a hillock rose magnificently with scattering of small colourful houses.
We were preparing ourselves for a quiet weekend. My son used to go for a coaching class at 5 AM in a neighbouring colony. He had just returned after attending the class. Early morning tuitions were a normal practice in Andamans because the sun rise is early in this stretch of islands located on eastern flank of the country. We were half asleep trying to catch some lost bits of sleep before start of a hectic day.
And then it came….. a light vibration at first as if a very heavy vehicle had passed by in great speed. We turned around on our beds to see and looked out from the window as to what had passed by. No sign of any vehicle but a stronger vibration followed and then a third one shaking the bed with some force. Reality dawned on us quickly.
My wife shouted to my son in the other room “ come out it is an earthquake”. Now it was slowly unfolding itself like a python gripping it’s pray. Within a minute it was on us with full force. The doors and windows were rattling. We started to climb down from the stairs towards the ground floor. The staircase was shaking with great force. Getting downstairs was difficult. My wife slipped and fell on the last step. We came out. The neighbours all around were coming out in their lawns.
The vibrations were still forceful, making it difficult to stand. We had never experienced anything like this before. The gravity of the situation was slowly dawning on us. The Jetty on the seafront was gradually disintegrating and sinking in the sea. The storm water drain in front of our houses which was always empty started flooding all of a sudden. Our vehicle a Toyota Qualis which was parked outside the house started to roll backwards and forwards . It was still vibrating. But every body also thought that the worst was over and we had survived a calamity without serious damage.
After about 15 minutes the things had quietened down. We started returning inside of our houses to marvel at the large cracks which had developed in some of the walls. A feeling of shock and numbness persisted. I thought the vibrations had something to do with our proximity to the sea. I started to think “ these seafront houses are not so safe, we should move elsewhere when other house was available.” But the peace and tranquility was short-lived.
Our domestic help’s family staying in the quarter came over to tell us that they were leaving for a safer place since this place was not safe. We asked why? They said that behind our row of houses the land had broken at some places and water was coming out. This news was startling. If the land behind us was getting flooded then where would we go because the frontage of our row of houses was on the sea. We hoped that these poor souls were just lying for the sake of enjoying the weekend elsewhere or were unnecessarily panicky.
But something ominous, something terribly strange was definitely in the air. Precisely around this time the 100 meter high Tsunami waves were striking at the Nicobar Islands and thousands of people were getting washed away . The mass watery grave unfolding a thousand miles away was perhaps sending some ominous signals through the atmosphere, which our human bodies being ultimately a part of cosmic nature system were subconsciously registering. Everyone was unusually quite.We slowly washed and got ready without talking to each other and also packed a suitcase –in case there was another aftershock and the house crumbled then …..
I came to the balcony and looked at the waters below. Something strange was still happening. The water was moving from one side to another as if it was in a crucible, which had been violently shaken. The movement was like a pendulum. Sometimes all of a sudden the water rose so high on one side that the sea bed also could be seen. My servant told that it was sign of danger, but we were not sure as to what could be the form of danger. I thought then we should move to a safer place.
I came down opened the gate on the road and put ignition key in the vehicle. I sat on the driver’s seat and watched outside. My god ! I was shocked what was happening !. A thin sheet of water had silently covered the stretch between our boundary wall to the sea including the service lane, road and the park. Water level was low but the ominous and surreptitious manner in which it covered the vast stretch in seconds was really horrifying. Let us move. I called my wife who had seen this from upstairs and was now coming down with my son. They were jointly pulling along our packed suitcase. When I turned back to look again at the water it was about 1 foot high. I asked them to get in leaving the suitcase . But they managed to bring it along somehow. Water was now hitting at the vehicle with some force.
I had been posted to Andaman & Nicobar Islands about 18 months back. Our house a duplex apartment was located close to sea –a stretch of backwaters in fact. The front gate of the house opened on a service road, which was followed by a row of fern trees. After the row of trees was the main road. Across the road there was a 10 meters wide strip of land-a jogging park in fact, which had been recently named after a local hero a Kargil Martyr. The jogger’s park was the sea front also.
We started moving in the first gear and came out on the service lane. Water was now gushing like a stream . I had no time to change the gear and kept the pedal pressed in the same gear. We had to turn left and cross the next two houses before we could come to a major road which climbed to the hilly part which was on the back of the row of houses. Normally this required three to four minutes time but that day it looked like miles were to be crossed. We seemed to be going on and on . The engine roaring and now sound of water also forming a roar. Water rose to about three feet and soon it was flowing over the bonnet of the vehicle. The impact of the water was trying to push the vehicle off the road. Some how the vehicle kept moving. Every second I was thinking that the engine would stop. But despite the water stream the vehicle kept moving, manufacturers definitely need to be complemented. After about five minutes we reached the road which would take us to safety. We turned the vehicle and started the climb. We were now out of sea but confronted with a sea of humanity.
The narrow road ahead was filled with crowds of fleeting people. Everyone had a look of horror on his face. The crowd was surging forward but every one was looking back. They also looked at our vehicle in a strange manner specially the bonnet. Since we had to keep moving I could not get down and see what they were looking at in front of our vehicle. After some distance I got chance to get down and examined the front portion of the vehicle. It was covered with green moss which had got entangled all over. Two small fishes were also stuck up. That cleared the mystery of curios glances that the bonnet of the vehicle was attracting.
The fleeting crowds resembled a similar scene out of the famous movie Ten Commandments. Horrified faces , Roads overflowing and the sea water roaring below. The rise in water level stopped after about fifteen minutes. From the upper location we could see that water level had risen by about 15 feet near our house. It seemed to be receding thereafter.