On a balmy morning yesterday at Marina Beach, Brajita Poulose, 45, her husband, two sons and four other relatives strolled along the shore in the sunshine, enjoying the ocean breeze...

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MADRAS, India — On a balmy morning yesterday at Marina Beach, Brajita Poulose, 45, her husband, two sons and four other relatives strolled along the shore in the sunshine, enjoying the ocean breeze. Young men played cricket, joggers trotted past food vendors, fishermen hauled in their nets. Then, without warning, the placid ocean turned violent.

“I was holding my cousin’s hand, my two sons were walking behind me and suddenly … we saw a huge wave coming at us,” said Poulose, who lay exhausted in a hospital bed as her eldest son, Jiyo, sat weeping at her side. “We did not have enough warning.”

The water quickly rose to Poulose’s shoulders, she recalled, and a torrent caused by a tidal wave in the Indian Ocean swept her inland, across the main road along Marina Beach, a broad ribbon of golden sand at the edge of this bustling commercial city in the state of Tamil Nadu.

Jiyo, 29, tried to keep his mother in sight, but the surging current pushed them apart. “In no time I was alone and I couldn’t see anyone,” he said. “It was one continuous wave.”

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He caught up with her hours later at a government hospital. The bodies of his father and younger brother Sebastian were in a morgue. The rest of the family was missing.

Dev Anand, 22, said he had been playing cricket with four friends at Marina Beach when the waves swept them inland. Three of his friends survived. But one, whom Anand called “Sheik,” could not be found last night.

“He was too thin,” Anand recalled after making the rounds of hospitals and morgues with the three other friends to look for the missing man. “We kept yelling out to him to hold on to the lamppost, but he could not.”

Ravichandran, a fisherman from Elliot’s Beach in Madras, said he noticed something was amiss as he pulled his morning catch from his net. “I saw the waves climbing alarmingly,” Ravichandran, 32, told Reuters. “I rushed back and pulled my wife and two children out of our home. Water had rushed into our hut by then.”

Rajani Unni, also from Elliot’s Beach, said the tremors made him feel like he was on a train. “I turned around and I saw that a small glass table with a flower vase was shaking,” she said. “We saw people rushing away from fishermen’s colonies lining the beach. Women were wailing and crying.”

ERANGA JAYAWARDENA / AP

People search for their belongings after tidal waves destroyed their houses on the coastal areas of Colombo, Sri Lanka, yesterday.


Ekambal Nayakar, 50, who lives with her 75-year-old mother in Pattinappakan, a shantytown on the seafront in Madras, said she waded and swam to safety while others rescued her mother. “The water entered the house this deep,” Nayakar said, pointing to her neck. “Then I heard voices outside — ‘Seawater! Seawater!’ — and people were running helter-skelter toward the tallest building they could see.”

In Phuket, Thailand, home of an international resort, Katri Seppanen, 27, of Helsinki, Finland, walked around barefoot this morning at the Patong Hospital waiting room where she spent the night with her mother and sister. She had a bandaged cut on her leg.

“The water went back, back, back, so far away, and everyone wondered what it was — a full moon or what? Then we saw the wave come and we ran,” said a tearful Seppanen, who was on the island’s popular Patong Beach with her family. The wave washed over their heads and separated them; they found each other two hours later.

Greg Miller, 55, of Honolulu said when he felt the earthquake from his Phuket beachfront room, he knew from experience at home to look at the ocean for signs of what was to come.

“I finally got a car and managed to get into the hills. I called my friend and warned him not to come, but he drove down here anyway. His car was swept up by the water into the hills, flipping over four times on the way,” Miller said of his friend, who survived.

Roland Buerk, a BBC correspondent vacationing in Sri Lanka, was in bed in his hotel room in Unawatuna, a resort town on the southwestern coast, when the waves struck.

“We suddenly heard some shouts from outside,” he wrote on the BBC News Web site. “Then the water started coming under the door. Within a few seconds, it was touching the window.”

He and a companion pushed through the rushing water to a tree and climbed into its branches, but it collapsed under the force of the current. “We were swept along for a few hundred meters, trying to dodge the motorcycles, refrigerators, cars and other debris that were coming with us. Finally, about 300 meters inshore, we managed to get hold of a pillar, which we held on to, and the waters just gradually began to subside.”

Buerk described shattered buildings and cars in trees. He said he had counted four bodies, including two Sri Lankans — an elderly woman and a young woman — and a Western boy “who looked to be about 5 years old.”

Another eyewitness in Unawatuna, Swati Thiyagarajan, described the wave to an NDTV reporter: “It was literally like the sea stood up and walked to your door.”