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Recovery Efforts Three Months After the Deadly Tsunami


India's southern district of Nagapattinam was one of the worst affected by the December 26th tsunami that swept the shores of 12 countries, killing tens of thousands. Three months later, the community is still trying to recover.

With the simple act of casting a net, these fishermen off India's southern coast are one step closer to a life they used to know.

Its their first time at sea since the tsunami struck in December. They were coaxed by a local official into taking a trip not far from shore.

All had their boats and nets destroyed when the waves pounded the shores of Nagapattinam, in the state of Tamil Nadu, where more than 75 percent of the tsunamis victims on Indias mainland were killed. Thats more than 6,000 people, some of them, the children, wives and parents of these men.

Still, as their relaxed attitudes suggest, they say they are no longer afraid of the ocean that claimed the lives of so many.

Officials say that with the help of non-governmental organizations, the majority of Nagapattinam's damaged boats will be repaired or replaced within the next few weeks, and most fishermen will return to sea.

But there are consequences to the tsunami beyond physical destruction. Aid workers warn that grief and trauma, combined with government hand-outs and a lack of work, has fueled alcoholism in a community already known for its tendency to drink.

Thirty-eight-year-old Kumar lost two children to the deadly waters.

"We have so much free time," he says. "We enjoy having a drink since theres no work. And we watch TV."

It’s a problem authorities have become wise to. Now, Nagapattinam's senior administrator, J. Radakrishnan, says the government hands most compensation packages out to women, who are much less likely to drink.

"So this is a conscious decision to ensure that that we take care of that basic requirement and not give cash to the man who is otherwise used to taking a little bit of alcohol. And considering that there is no work, we are also looking at psycho-social support for these issues,” says Mr. Radakrishnan.

Fishermen aren't the only ones who need time to recover.

This government nurse is meeting with two kids who lost their father to the tsunami. She’s asked what they want to be when they grow up. "A doctor," says the girl. The boy wants to be an engineer.

The goal of this basic trauma counseling, Nurse Ranjini says, is to help these kids put the tragedy to the tsunami behind them.

"Since these kids lost their father, it is important to build up a rapport and give them confidence to talk. If you find out what they want to do, it gives them more confidence and hope about the future. They become optimistic about life,” says the nurse.

Economic realities in Nagapattinam mean that the vast majority of its children will have little choice but to earn a living through fishing. For that reason, officials say, the best tribute to be paid to the tsunami's victims is for its fishermen to head back to sea.

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