Rescuers found 345 more bodies on the tsunami-hit Andamans as India's military continued yesterday to evacuate entire islands which have been declared unfit for human inhabitation.
The official death toll on the Indian islands now stands at 1,837, but with more than 5,600 still listed as missing a minister warned yesterday that the grieving was not over.
"Even today some bodies were found," said India's Tribal Affairs Minister P.R. Kyndiah, who is conducting an in-depth assessment of the massive destruction on the tropical archipelago.
"But it is difficult to declare the thousands who are missing as dead because miracles still do happen."
Scheduled events and local celebrations have been cancelled on the Andaman and Nicobar islands since the tsunami struck on Dec. 26.
The number of those officially declared missing also went up by 83 to 5,625, an official government spokesman said in the capital Port Blair.
Some 4,400 of the missing disappeared on Katchal island, close to the epicenter of the Dec. 26 undersea earthquake off nearby Indonesia.
Survivors sheltering in tsunami relief camps are leaving for mainland India. Some 1,302 people sailed out overnight from Port Blair for Calcutta or Madras to escape the hardships, officials said.
"People are also returning to their homes [on the islands] to rebuild their lives and as of today we have 35,962 affected people living in camps," said Ram Kapse, governor of the 500-plus chain of islands.
The Indian military, spearheading its largest peacetime operation, is evacuating entire islands which have been declared unfit for human inhabitation.
Andaman's chief secretary V.V. Bhat said the populations of a total of six islands in the Indian Ocean would be rehabilitated elsewhere because of the scale of devastation.
"We have evacuated the entire [surviving] population of 1,230 people from Chowra to the island of Teressa and are moving out another 422 inhabitants from islands like Pilomillo and Little Nicobar to Campbell Bay," he said.
After a tour of islands inhabited by Andaman's five ancient aboriginal groups, Kyndiah warned that a similar exercise may have to be undertaken on other islands as well.
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh last week pledged two billion rupees (US$43.5 million) for the ravaged Andamans. Material and funds are also pouring in from across India for the archipelago where 356,000 lived before the tsunamis.
In related news, Indian authorities working to help tsunami victims yesterday rounded up reporters and demanded photographers surrender illegal pictures of protected tribal Aborigines.
Ram Kapse, the chief administrator of Andaman and Nicobar group of islands, said he was fed up with the media's intrusive obsession with tribal groups who survived the devastation with minimal loss.
"There is a complaint that some journalists have taken photographs of the Jarawa tribal people and there are others doing other things in prohibited areas," Kapse said.
"These Jarawas are not showpieces and since there is a law we are going to be very strict and anyone who has photographed them must surrender the films before leaving this island," Kapse said in the Andamanese capital Port Blair.
A 1957 Indian law prohibits photography of the Stone Age Aborigines on the isolated archipelago, which is administered directly by New Delhi. Unsupervised contact with the tribals is also banned.