A tale of rescue and recovery

Decade after tsunami

A tale of rescue and recovery

They had employment offers that would have taken them abroad. Instead, they salvaged decomposed bodies of those washed away into the depths of the sea by a giant tsunami that struck the Tamil Nadu coastline on December 26, 2004, and taught children disaster management for free.

K Karthikeyan and his friends have come a long way since, trying to erase those memories of unprecedented horror and disaster that snuffed out lakhs of lives a decade ago. It all started when Karthikeyan, who nurtured ambitions of a career in West Asia, turned to deep-sea diving after the tsunami struck that fateful day.

He and his friend Somasundaram and a couple of others joined hands with a 20-member team recovering highly decomposed bodies of tsunami victims who had died even before they could realise what was happening.

“Getting a labourer's job abroad is not an easy task for fishermen like us. It was our dream to settle down there. However, it was a sudden U-turn after our villages were washed by the tsunami,” said Karthikeyan.

“While we walked along the muddy coastal area searching for our mothers, stepping on a corpse or two was a common occurrence,” said Karthikeyan.

“The money my mother saved to pay the recruiting agent was used to purchase wood and kerosene for mass-cremation,” said a teary-eyed Somasundaram.

The duo was just 29 then. The disaster led them to dedicate their lives to the welfare of the victims' families. This, despite both losing their mothers to the tsunami.

“Now, we have a small team consisting of eight members who are dedicated to rehabilitating those affected by natural disasters,” said Somasundaram.

Karthikeyan has the sad distinction of helping government agencies recover the last body on January 31, 2005, which is mentioned in the official records of the Nagapattinam district administration.

The duo subsequently turned to teaching children in Nagapattinam how to be safe when natural disasters strike. They are also engaged in helping fishermen stranded mid-sea, besides helping recover bodies of those who drown. In addition, every year they also voluntarily assist the Nagapattinam district administration, which is annually hit by floods and cyclones.

“There is no guarantee of a future devoid of catastrophe. We try to educate, respond and rebuild,” said Somasundaram. The tsunami washed away more than 30 villages in Nagapattinam.

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