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Indians, Sri Lankans Return Home after Tsunami Scare

  • Anjana Pasricha

In Sri Lanka and southern India, tens of thousands of people have returned home after the lifting of tsunami alerts that were issued following a powerful new earthquake in Indonesia. South Asia, which was caught completely unawares by the December 26th tsunami, was better prepared to handle the threat of disaster this time.

Along the east coast of Sri Lanka and Southeastern India, authorities gave the all clear Tuesday morning, and relief swept through communities that had been battered by the December 26th tsunami.

Statements like this one by S.K. Swamy at India's Center for Disaster Management came early in the day - just hours after late-night warnings that another massive earthquake that had struck Indonesia might trigger fresh tsunami waves.

"So far there have been no reports of tsunami waves hitting any of our region," he said. "In view of this we have asked everybody to go back, go to their homes."

The 8.7 magnitude earthquake hit off the coast of Indonesia's Sumatra Island late Monday night. Tens of thousands of people living in Indian Ocean coastal regions were alerted to evacuate their homes. There was some panic, but most people reacted calmly.

In Sri Lanka, where nearly 30,000 died in the December disaster, sirens wailed, and police used loudspeakers to advise residents to move to higher ground. Bells rang in churches and temples to wake up coastal neighborhoods.

In India, the armed forces and state authorities were mobilized to handle any potential disaster. In the Maldives people were advised to stay alert.

Sri Lanka's military spokesman, Daya Ratnayake, said rapid dissemination of information about the earthquake helped authorities act promptly.

"We could manage to inform our police, army and all other authorities even well before the public were informed," said Mr. Ratnayake.

People took no chances. Coastal villages quickly emptied out. People fled with whatever possessions they could bundle together. In India, many fishermen spent the night on city pavements.

Officials said more than 70,000 people were evacuated within an hour in India's Nagapattinam district - the area worst hit by the December tsunami. Mr. Santhanam, the state relief commissioner, told local television the operation was smooth.

"I am quite satisfied with the response time, in fact the whole administrative machinery has risen to the occasion, and in spite of the fact that this was late in the evening that this happened, we were able to mobilize.. And the people also have been most cooperative..This time there was no panic at all," he described.

This time, the nightmare ended quickly. Schools opened and children returned to play on the beaches. By Tuesday afternoon, life had returned to what now passes for normal across the traumatized region.

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