Huddled in hushed silence, an anxious crowd stood staring at the approaching motorboat. As six corpses were pulled out and laid on the ground, the crisp morning air was shattered...

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SONANKUPPAM, India — Huddled in hushed silence, an anxious crowd stood staring at the approaching motorboat. As six corpses were pulled out and laid on the ground, the crisp morning air was shattered by the wails of women who began to examine the bodies, in search of missing family members.

“My son, this is my son,” screamed Abirami Kadirvel, 28, as she broke down and fell over the muddied body of a 10-year-old boy she identified as Madhavan. “The water has eaten my child,” she said repeatedly, beating her chest in mourning.

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A day after huge tsunamis left a trail of death and destruction along the coastlines of southern India, rescuers continued to pull corpses out of the receding waters in this tiny fishing village hugging the sea in Cuddalore district of the state of Tamil Nadu.

Scores of families in Tamil Nadu refused to move to safer areas yesterday and waited along the coastlines, hoping to find missing people swept away by waves as high as 22 feet.

As Kadirvel rocked her dead son on her lap, another man searched through the bodies for his 11-year-old daughter.

“I cannot find her,” said fisherman Parasu Raman, 30, to his wife, who was waiting at a distance. “I have looked at each of the 50 bodies brought in since dawn. She is not in any of the hospitals either. I do not know whether to be relieved or disappointed. Maybe she is alive somewhere. Or maybe I will never see her body.”

Once a bustling fishing village of about 2,000 people, Sonankuppam, 115 miles south of Madras city, was devastated by waves that swallowed thatch-roofed huts and even brick homes.

Forty people have died in the village, about 500 are still missing and 75 are injured and in the hospital, according to the villagers. Most of the dead in the village were either children or old people.

Several large motorboats were hurled from the shore into the village, ramming into the houses. Flattened coconut trees entangled in fishing nets dotted the swampy village, where eerie silence was broken only by the sound of wandering goats and wailing women in the distance.

“It used to be a beautiful village,” said a tearful village leader, Duraimuga Selvam, 40, pointing to the direction from which the waves invaded. “Most of it is wiped out, no sign. We have lost … boats and nets. How will we pick up our lives again?”

In Sonankuppam, some villagers waded through swampy lanes strewn with broken bottles, slippers, school bags and toy cars to salvage muddied clothes they could wash and wear.

Almost ubiquitous in the scattered debris of the village was the flat image of a demon’s face with a red tongue sticking out. According to Selvam, the image was hung outside the door of every house, a common south Indian practice to ward off evil.

“Who knew that the sea that fed us for generations would bring death too?” asked Kuppamma Muthu, 65, a fish trader.