A Phone Call Saved an Entire Village

CHENNAI, Fortunately, in the midst of the many heartrending stories of death and loss, chronicles of courage and miraculous survival are surfacing everyday: the latest being the tale of four coastal villages in the Union Territory of Pondicherry, which escaped obliteration thanks to quick thinking and sheer luck.
The most remarkable perhaps is the story of Nallavadu, whose entire population of 3,600 was saved by a phone call. Nallavadu, along with the other three villages, is involved with the M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation’s `Information Village Research Project,’ where the MSSRF’s informatics division conducts classes from rural knowledge centres.

One of the former volunteers of this programme, Vijayakumar, who now works in Singapore, saw the tsunami warning there.

He immediately phoned the village knowledge centre, setting off instant reaction. A warning was repeatedly announced over the public address system and a siren set off. As a result, the tsunami claimed no victims there.

Mysterious spring

At Veerampattinam, a mysterious spring saved lives, says S. Senthilkumaran, a member of the Informatics Division, who has just returned from surveying the villages.

The villagers, he says, told him that at 7.15 a.m. on the day of the tsunami, a spring appeared in the Veerampattinam tank, drawing crowds of men, women and children. So, when the tsunami hit the beach initially, most of the villagers were at the temple and could be evacuated by panchayat leaders.

Mani, a fisherman, saw the waters rising when he was working on his boat motor and raised an alarm. Mani, apparently, first alerted six women, who were on the beach, hurrying them into a boat, which was then swept into the village.

He rushed to the PA system, which was locked, broke it open and alerted the village. Veerampattinam, which has more than 6,200 people, lost one life that day.

At Moorthykuppam too, the number of casualties was far fewer than those suffered by most other coastal villages.

The village, which has a population of more than 1,500 people, lost five persons.
Although it had no public address system, not many lives were lost because the panchayat was in session when the waves came in, and practically all villagers, who were at the panchayat, could be led to safety.

Periyakalapet, with a population of almost 4,000 people, was not so lucky. The village lost 13 persons and five villagers are still missing. But it did not lose a single child. For, on the morning of December 26 all the children in the village assembled opposite the MSSRF knowledge centre for tuitions since they had an examination the next day.

Mr. Senthilkumaran says it is vital that all coastal villages have a public address system network or community radio.

The informatics division plans to tie up with the existing community radio networks such as the IGNOU (Indira Gandhi National Open University) to provide early warning to the fishing community in events such as these.

Courtesy News Watcher and Liberty Forum