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Navalady - A village turned graveyard

[TamilNet, Saturday, 08 January 2005, 15:45 GMT]
What used to be Navalady village is today an earthen stage containing the corpses of the villagers the sea claimed on Boxing Day as it swept into the land. And the villagers who remain struggle to cope with the shock, distress and pain of the effects of that day. They speak of one fisherman, Ravi, who saved at least a hundred people. And they remember the families they lost in minutes.

Click on map to enlarge

The area along this stretch of the eastern coast has been turned into a giant graveyard by the giant waves. From the edge of the lagoon in Seelamunai, to the north of Batticaloa, Ravi looks at Navalady, on the opposite shore. Despite his acquaintance with the lagoon and the sea, he is still in shock.

Ravi says he was fishing in the middle of the lagoon when the tide came. “While we were in the boat the water level suddenly rose by 13 or 14 feet. All we could see around was water. Only the tops of the trees on the shore were visible. We only realised the enormity of what happened only when the water level started to recede. The water swept the village back into the sea,” he said.

“People were screaming in the river. We did what we can to save them amongst all the screaming. But we could only save a few of them,” Ravi said.

“Many people were clinging to trees and wailing. We were only able to save about a hundred of them, including eight Sri Lanka Army soldiers. Other soldiers also helped us to an extent to rescue the people.”

“In the end my boat broke up. We could not do any more,” he said.

“Once the tide receded, the bodies began to float. We couldn’t recover all the bodies floating in the river. I saw many bodies being washed out into the sea.”

“The water was in the village for about half-an-hour. We recovered as many bodies as we could. Now we are cremating any we find on the spot. There are bodies of many women entangled in barbed wire.“

His companion intervened to say that they could hear wailing from the village through the night. “People were screaming though the night after the incident. We couldn’t stand listening to them so we went further inland to spend the night”, he said.

While we were chatting, a few people came by boat from Navalady to Seelamunai. Ravi said they were retuning after conducting the 8th day rites for their dead, according to Hindu custom. As they alighted from the boat we could hear the continuous and painful cry of “we couldn’t save our children”.

Mr.N.Sounthirarajah lost his two children and his parents in the Tsunami disaster in Navalady.

N.Soundararajah lost his two children and his parents, managing to save his wife only. Three of their bodies were recovered. He was just returning after going back to his wrecked home to perform religious rites for the dead.

“My child was clinging to me and screaming ‘father’ ‘father’ right to the end. Fearing that I was going to drown as the force of the water worsened, I released him from my grip hoping he would have a better chance. But I was eventually saved and he was swept away,” he cried. “Our other son was at a tuition class and perished with his whole class.”

“If only someone had warned us of this we could have at least saved our lives. We don’t care about the property, but we had no warning, no chance to save these lives,” lamented Soundararajah.

His brother-in-law S.Henman said, with tears rolling down his cheeks, that he had lost three of his four children and not even found their bodies.

“Even if we had a five minute warning we would have saved most of them. The whole village would not have been destroyed like this. We have over 300 boats. We could have put our loved ones in them and sailed to the middle of the lagoon and saved them,” he said.

“We will not resettle in this graveyard, even if we are forced to eke out a living cutting firewood”, he said.

A youth nearby said that government officials have said that Rs30,000 would be paid for people who resettle there, and that there would be measures in place to warn of future tsunamis as well as better life saving measures. This appeared to anger both Soundararajah and Henman.

‘They will appreciate our suffering only if they were here. We will never again go near the sea. Navalady is no longer a village, it is a graveyard full of bodies’ they said, proceeding to curse the government with obscenities.

Soundararajah continued, “Lives would have been saved only if we had been told about such a wave, and what to do in the instance that something happens in the sea. We would not have had to walk amongst the ruins of our homes, in between rotting bodies and the putrefying stench to conduct religious rites for our loved ones who died.”

All of them were emotional and couldn’t talk a lot. Henman asked who would really want relief supplies after not even seeing the bodies of their three children. He said in all 42 members of his extended family succumbed to the wave.

No one is able to talk much. They get very emotional as soon as they start. The psychological problems they are having are plain for all to see.

“I am frightened now when I hear people shouting or running. When I saw the surge of water I ran to the balcony of a house. Water flooded the ground floor and we were afraid that it might reach us too. I saw many people being swept away as the water level dropped. I still hear their screams inside me,” remembers Gowreesan, a graduate of the Easter University.

“One can die. But one shouldn’t keep dying of fear. A whole generation of ours has been wiped out,” he says.

“Why was no one was able to foresee this huge disaster?” he asks. “They say it’s a global village and that the world has shrunk. But we didn’t know of something that happened over three hours ago. Is this the era of information?”

“We were watching the cricket in New Zealand on the day of the incident. Yet we didn’t know about something important for us. Is this globalisation?” asked Gowreesan.

“I screamed while watching helplessly as babies and children were swept away by the torrent. I am still filled with guilt that I couldn’t save them. Children who were familiar with the river were escaping. My life is not normal still,” says Gowreesan, his face still clearly troubled.

Ravi says bodies of many who lost their lives after desperate struggles with the water still remain in Navalady. Those who have been there say there are clear signs they died after putting up a desperate struggle to survive. Many bodies continue to lie around the place. Others are still floating in the river.

LTTE rescue operations under the supervision of Col. Banu recovering a body at Navalady

Located between Batticaloa lagoon and the sea, Navalady village used to be the home of 475 families containing 1890 individuals according to District Secretariat records. Of these, official records confirm that 310 are dead. But locals put the toll at over a thousand. Each family in the village has lost at least one member.

Navalady village is also where the memorial to Annai Poopathy was located. It was the village where she fasted to death sixteen years ago, demanding that the Indian government should declare a ceasefire and immediately commence peace talks with the Liberation Tigers.

Annai Boopathy Memorial in Navalady (Library photo)

Today, that village is a land of tombs. Many villages have ceased to exist after that momentous Sunday. This story is not that of the deaths in a particular village, but merely a reflection of what happened in every village.


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