Sun, Jan 02, 2005 - Page 6 News List

Aftershocks rattle Indian archipelago

DESPERATE TIMES The survivors on the tsunami ravaged Nicobar and Andaman islands are not getting aid help as the threat of starvation grows


Six aftershocks jolted a remote southern Indian archipelago where villagers were fighting yesterday to survive without water or food after Asia's devastating tsunami, officials said.

The 5.2-5.9 magnitude tremors on Friday night and early yesterday came as authorities tried to reach the survivors who are desperate for humanitarian aid. There were no reports of casualties from the new quakes.

India has so far denied international aid groups access to enter most of the island territory of Andaman and Nicobar, the last tsunami blind spot where casualties are not known but feared to be in the thousands.

"There is nothing to eat there. There is no water. In a couple of days, people will start dying of hunger," Anup Ghatak, a utilities contractor from Campbell Bay island, said as he was being evacuated to Port Blair, the capital of the territory.

Yesterday, India raised its official death toll to 8,942 -- a jump of more than 1,100. Most of the deaths, 7,397, have occurred in the southern state of Tamil Nadu. However, that does not include a complete count in the island territories. An island official said Friday that 712 bodies had been buried or cremated there, and at least 3,754 people were missing amid the debris of crumbled homes, downed trees and mounds of dead animals on several islands.

That lowered a government estimate Thursday of 10,000 missing in the hundreds of islands scattered over some 7,000km in the Bay of Bengal. The Red Cross said earlier up to 30,000 could be missing.

Homeless and stunned victims of last Sunday's disaster poured into eight relief camps in Port Blair with harrowing tales of death and destruction. Walking long distances through dense forests to get to the nearest airfield, they were grateful they had survived but eager to learn if their friends and families were safe.

Breakdown of tsunami casualties

At least 123,171 people are reported dead around southern Asia and as far away as Somalia on Africa's eastern coast.

* Indonesia: 80,246

* Sri Lanka: 28,729

* India: 8,942

* Thailand: 4,812

* Somalia: 200

* Myanmar: 90

* Maldives: 73

* Malaysia: 66

* Tanzania: 10

* Bangladesh: 2

* Kenya: 1

Source: AP

"There is starvation. People haven't had food or water for at least five days. There are carcasses. There will be an epidemic," Manoranjan Bhakta, Andaman's lawmaker to the federal parliament, told reporters after being surrounded on a roadside by people demanding food and water for stranded family members.

Indian authorities have traditionally barred foreigners from most of the islands -- partly for security reasons because of an Indian air force base in Car Nicobar and also to protect a dwindling group of indigenous people. Even Indians need special permits to travel there.

Some 40 percent of the densely forested area is designated as a tribal reserve where indigenous people live; the remaining area is protected for wood cultivation.

A few international relief agencies have begun working in Port Blair -- the territory's capital, where permission is not needed to enter -- but are unable to go deeper into the archipelago's 500 islands.

The missing in Andaman and Nicobar Islands could not be presumed dead because they could have survived in coconut groves that dot the islands, said V.V. Bhat, chief secretary of the islands.

"It's possible that a good number of them might have survived in coconut gardens. Coconuts would have provided sustenance, but we can't hazard a guess," Bhat told reporters. Drinking water shortages have been reported, but local people were making do with eating coconut kernel and drinking coconut water, officials said.

"In the southern parts, people have suffered a lot. There is water scarcity everywhere. We fear an epidemic," said Tarak Banerjee, director of the disaster preparedness unit at the Voluntary Health Association of India.

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