Second blow for India's tsunami victims: heavy monsoon rains

Rows of new shining fiber boats sit on the beach. The hapless fishermen look agonizingly at the rough sea. Less than a year after the devastating tsunami, the worst monsoon rains and floods in 100 years have hit southern Tamil Nadu state, slowing recovery efforts and stamping on morale. "It's nature's second blow to us," says Natrajan, a fisherman in Cuddalore district, who uses only one name.

The heavy downpours began in October, ending five years of drought in Tamil Nadu, but the water seems to be chasing millions of people along the coastline, compounding their misery when they're already struggling to overcome the trauma of the Dec. 26 tsunami. The tsunami killed some 648 people in Cuddalore. The official death toll across India was 10,749. Another 5,640 people, mostly in the Andaman and Nicobar islands, are listed as missing, presumed dead.

The tsunami also sucked away the fishermen's boats and nets and destroyed their homes, leaving thousands with nowhere to live and no means of working. After sitting idle for four months, the Cuddalore fishermen received 1,500 new reinforced plastic and wooden boats from aid agencies. At first, their catches were good, even beyond the pre-tsunami yield, says Gagandeep Singh Bedi, the top district official. But for the past two and a half months, the catch has been extremely small because heavy rain and storms have kept the fishermen on land.

The fishermen are hoping that the January-March season, which often brings prawns, squid and expensive varieties of fish, will mean good profits from exports to Europe. For now, though, they're just waiting out the rain. The latest monsoon deluges have killed 430 people and left a half million homeless in Tamil Nadu alone. The wet season, which began in October, typically runs until the first week of January.

Twenty-two of the state's 30 districts have been hit by monsoon floods, including Cuddalore and Nagapattinam, the districts also worst-hit by the tsunami. Cuddalore has received 13.45 centimeters (5.30 inches) of rain since October, more than double the annual average, according to the Madras Meteorological Department.

The rains have also slowed efforts to move tsunami survivors into permanent housing, meaning that thousands of people are forced to continue living in water-logged temporary shelters with dirt floors and walls made of corrugated cardboard.

State authorities had planned to hand over 1,200 newly built homes to tsunami survivors in Cuddalore district to mark a year since the disaster next Monday, but the rains have delayed that plan by at least five weeks, Bedi said, reports the AP. N.U.

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