A senior railway officer who visited the tsunami-hit coastal areas of Visakhapatnam, Guntur, Prakasam and Nellore districts in Andhra Pradesh described the scene to rediff.com.
I was in Visakhapatnam when I got this unfortunate news in the morning. I was asked to visit some areas for assessment of rail tracks. I traveled by road, as the rail tracks were flooded. What I saw was nightmare.
I first went to a village close to Visakhapatnam port. It was close to my residence. As I was going towards the village, I saw people coming in groups from the opposite direction. They were carrying some bags.
Men, women and children were just marching towards the town. I looked at them but they silently marched by. All of them looked haggard. They were not even talking among themselves. There was completely silence.
All I could hear was the swirling wind in full force. It reminded me of the scenes of Partition, as I had seen in Hindi movies.
I had visited this village just 10 days ago. It is full of members of the fishing community and is a very lively place.
The villagers dry fish in the sun and then sell them to big merchants. Drying the fish in the open caused the entire village to stink. On my previous visit, I was on a picnic with some friends. We had gone fishing and boating in the sea.
Crossing this village was a difficult task due to the foul stench. I had to keep a handkerchief on my nose to avoid the stink. We had stayed in the village for some time.
But today when I went there, I couldn't find anything. There was no village at all. I kept going and going but I couldn't find anything.
The entire village had been swept away. There was water everywhere, even on the roads.
There were at least 1,000 huts in this village but everything had disappeared. There was no stench either. I couldn't imagine how many would have survived this devastation.
Everybody in these places has horrifying tales to tell. Almost everybody I met had lost somebody. The tremors were felt till 4:30 pm on Sunday.
I could not see any dead body but there were symbols of devastation all around. There was no relief work till Monday afternoon.
The most unfortunate thing was that people were observing penance (to propitiate Lord Ayappa in Sabarimala, Kerala). They offer prayers for 40 days after which they shave their heads on the beach and take a bath.
Hence, lots of people had gathered along the beaches in the coastal districts on Saturday night. Many people had accompanied these devotees. All these people were spending the night near the beach.
When the tsunami struck early on Sunday morning, most of them got drowned.
Also, there were many Christmas revelers and lot of tourists. So the casualty was high.
Towns have fared better than villages though.
My primary task was to inspect the rail tracks. Though the water was receding fast, there was still a lot on the tracks. We didn't stop train services because it would have caused panic but trains were just delayed.
We have put the train service in 'caution'. This means the trains will run at a speed of 30 km per hour [The normal speed is 90-100 km per hour]. Engineers are inspecting the tracks and we hope to restore normalcy in 3-4 days.
Train services have been affected in the south-central, east-coastal and southern zones.
(The official spole to Ehtasham Khan)