The Zai Whitaker column | What 2004 tragedy on Great Nicobar might show us about meeting coronavirus challenge

The Zai Whitaker column | What 2004 tragedy on Great Nicobar might show us about meeting coronavirus challenge
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The Zai Whitaker column | What 2004 tragedy on Great Nicobar might show us about meeting coronavirus challenge

The Zai Whitaker column | What 2004 tragedy on Nice Nicobar would possibly present us about assembly coronavirus problem

The psychological and bodily sources that enabled Noticed Agu to outlive the horrific expertise of the 2004 tsunami are an inspiration to us all — maybe even a metaphor for overcoming this coronavirus pandemic and its challenges.

Learn half 1 of this column right here.

Agu known as out to his companions many times, with no matter pressure was left in his physique and thru the excruciating ache.  However there was no reply; their names can be added to the checklist of tsunami victims within the Andaman and Nicobar islands.

The peak of the autumn from the peepal tree into the swirling tsunami waters had been at the least 6 or 7 metres.  He’d hurtled by the old-growth maze of twigs and branches which had bruised and gashed his physique; and he realised that the searing ache was from a fracture on his proper arm.  That this was the extent of his accidents, was a miracle.

However different miracles would comply with, including Agu’s tsunami story to the chronicles of virtually unbelievable human endurance and braveness.

Struggling to free himself from the forest particles, gasping and swallowing the swirling, smelly water, Agu tried to search out his bearings. However the world had modified. Throughout him was the fallen forest in a sea of water; and as he tried to orient himself one other tidal wave pulled him underneath. Its brute pressure ripped the garments off him, leaving him bare. The raging waters threw him towards fallen trunks and branches and dunked him repeatedly within the stinking marsh. He managed to crawl to the one standing tree close to him so he may use it as a crutch, rise up and survey the panorama. However it gave approach and fell on him, inflicting additional damage.

The principle factor, the one factor, on his thoughts was that he needed to keep afloat, hold his head above the water, breathe. He struggled in direction of a floating raft of tree logs, reached it, and gaining some “security” and top, known as out once more  with the power left to him. He was in a position to sit on the logs, scan the panorama: Simply water and particles, with the columns of the bridge jutting out in helpless give up. The coast was gone. An eerie quiet surrounded him; no birds or bugs, simply the sound of water, lapping, swirling, dashing.  Would there be one other wave?

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Then, by the ache and exhaustion, got here a life-saving realisation from his huge fund of forest data. The tree-raft he was sitting on had been a part of a swatch of lowland forest adjoining the sea-bound Galathea River. He tried to maintain his head clear, and used this clue to orient himself. It gave him a attainable route for the coast,   and he knew that’s the place he ought to head to. However for now, shifting from the log raft was unattainable.  He needed to keep put; his battered and bruised physique and fractured arm wanted relaxation.

Evening got here, and never a wink of sleep. Within the morning mild, he watched a turtle carcass float by; then a dwell turtle, a superb reminder that there was nonetheless life round him.  Because the solar rose, it bought sizzling and his thirst drove him to drink the smelly slush round him.  He fell asleep for some time, awakened, drifted off once more.

And thus the hours, then days, handed by. The dehydration and weak spot brought on him to float into lengthy semi-conscious spells with some alert occasions in between. He managed to maintain monitor of the times, counting and remembering the quantity that had handed. He noticed mild plane and helicopters circling overhead, trying to find survivors.  However he was too weak by now to even consider a plan for alerting them.  Generally, throughout an aerial sortie, he’d attempt to stand above the wall of particles and lift his good arm, nevertheless it was a ineffective motion that drained him of the little vitality he had left.

Sandflies tortured him through the day, mosquitoes at evening. This was additionally the house of saltwater crocodiles and he noticed a number of swimming or basking on the fallen timber. One evening he noticed a saltwater crocodile within the moonlight. It swam as much as his log raft, circled.  Agu regarded round for an acceptable department to make use of as a weapon however fortunately it determined to swim off and go away him alone. After per week, it rained and he was in a position to catch and drink the little that fell into his open mouth. However the rain additionally introduced freezing nights.

The Zai Whitaker column  What 2004 tragedy on Great Nicobar might show us about meeting coronavirus challenge

Agu recuperates in hospital, and a good friend visits. Picture courtesy Dr Manish Chandi

The Zai Whitaker column  What 2004 tragedy on Great Nicobar might show us about meeting coronavirus challenge

The leatherback, probably the most distinctive of the ocean turtles. Picture courtesy Adhith Swaminathan

The Zai Whitaker column  What 2004 tragedy on Great Nicobar might show us about meeting coronavirus challenge

The analysis and conservation continues. Picture courtesy Adhith Swaminathan

After which there have been no extra helicopter sorties; they will need to have stopped searching for survivors and our bodies. He plunged into the depths of despair. However hitting the underside helped him rise. The catalyst was a water monitor lizard (Varanus salvator) which, tongue flicking, investigated his inert physique to verify if he was carrion.  Agu willed his thoughts and physique again into motion. Utilizing a small department as a crutch for his wounded arm, he left his raft and swam to the following logjam. There, after a relaxation, a life-saving picture got here into his thoughts: a forest path on the thirty fifth kilometer, that led from the seashore to the village of Shastri Nagar. A small stream ran alongside it. He needed to orient himself precisely, and get there.

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Stumbling, crawling, generally yelling out from the excruciating ache, regularly falling unconscious, he crawled onward and bought to the shore. The seashore was unrecognisable; however the stream nonetheless flowed, and he was in a position to quench his thirst for the primary time in two weeks.

On 11 January, Day 16, crawling on all fours, Agu bought to the outskirts of Shastri Nagar village. Recognizing a pair of trousers within the muck, he put them on, utilizing a contemporary vine as a belt to maintain them on his now skeletal physique.  [This was how Manish, co-author of this article and part of the ANET team, saw him later that day in Port Blair.] Additional on, Agu met an outdated man he knew, however who didn’t recognise him. He took Agu dwelling, gave him some daal roti, and led him to Shastri Nagar. Right here the devastation was full; devoid of life, with particles and shards from homes scattered all over the place.

Harry Andrews was then director of the Madras Crocodile Financial institution. He and Manish had managed to get to Port Blair from the mainland on listening to information of the catastrophe on the leatherback camp. They’d been desperately attempting to organise an aerial search over Level 41, however naval plane have been busy 24/7 with rescues, catastrophe surveys and reaching rations to stranded survivors.

By a rare coincidence, at the present time, Day 16, was once they lastly bought permission from the Navy for an aerial search. Harry and the pilot circled the mouth of the Galathea and scanned the ravaged panorama for indicators of life. And in a forest clearing above the water line, they noticed folks waving. The pilot landed close by. Harry was delighted to see Agu sitting underneath a coconut tree, and heartbroken within the instant data that the others in all probability hadn’t made it. He defined to Agu that he can be taken to Port Blair. Harry and the pilot would proceed the seek for the others.

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A chopper took Agu to Campbell Bay and from there to Port Blair on the following Navy Dornier shuttle flight.  Manish and others from ANET acquired him and he was quickly in INS Dhanvantari, the Amed Forces hospital at Minnie Bay. After his accidents healed and he gained some power, he spent a number of months together with his household within the Karen settlement of Webi on North Andaman, earlier than returning to ANET. Ambika Tripathi’s legacy lives on and the leatherback analysis challenge continues by ANET, which is now underneath the fantastic conservation NGO, Dakshin Basis.

The psychological and bodily sources that enabled Agu to outlive this horrific expertise are an inspiration to us all; maybe even a metaphor for overcoming this coronavirus pandemic and its challenges.  As to his abiding reminiscence of it, I can solely repeat his phrases once I mentioned, “Agu, what horrors you lived by!”

“Sure,” he’d mentioned, “I used to be so apprehensive about the place the others have been, what was taking place to them.”

One thing to be taught from this. Possibly so much.


Creator and conservationist Zai Whitaker is managing trustee — Madras Crocodile Financial institution Belief/Centre for Herpetology

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