Thirty-five-year-old Punnidha stands in tears, shaking in front of a plot that she used to call her home in Ennore. Where a door once used to stand, remains the mere vestiges of a frame. The walls of the house open up to the sky and what was once a cement floor, is now unrecognisable in the thick layer of black ash coating it. Scattered in this ash are burnt vessels, a cement cupboard, the black remnants of a laptop and what used to be two cellphones.
Punnidha, is amongst the residents of the Kasi Vishwanatha Koil Kuppam, which witnessed a massive fire that destroyed their homes eight days back. At around midnight, cries of panic woke up and saved many families who were fast asleep as their thatched roofs caught fire for reasons yet to be identified. Women, men and children rushed out of their homes and brought out any gas cylinders, which could potentially catch fire. Fire engines and police officers rushed to tackle the blaze, in this area which has close to 200 homes. But it was already too late. The fire could not be controlled as it completely gutted 23 houses with thatched roofs and damaged 47 more.
The Kuppam, primarily occupied by fisherfolk, is facing its second disaster in just two months. "Look," cries Punnidha. "This is a new net my husband bought after the earlier one was spoiled in the oil spill. Look at the state of it." The portions of the net that survived the fire, betray that it was indeed brand new but the rest of the equipment was completely burnt and beyond redemption. "It has been over a week since the incident took place and all we have got so far is Rs 5000 from the Government. How do we fix all this damage with that money?" she asks.
From the Monday, following the fire, politicians and bureaucrats have swarmed into the hamlet but residents claim, little has been done to help them. "The Fisheries Minister D Jayakumar, the local MLA and even the collector have visited us in the last week," says Rajakumari, who has been living in the hamlet for 23 years. Rajakumari's house has been completely burnt. The grinders, mixer and table fans form a mangled mess of metal on the floor of her house. "The collector told us that we need to provide our land registration papers if we want the Government to help rebuild our houses. Most of us don't have such documents. We have lived here for as long as we can remember and whatever proof we had of our stay has now been lost in this fire," laments the 32-year-old who ran out of her home on Sunday, with a gas cylinder in one hand and her children in tow.
Remnants of scorched papers are buried in the ashes on the floor of Rajakumari's house. But, every house in this area has lost one item in common - their children's schoolbooks. A half burnt page of a textbook near 10-year-old Darshani's home carries the images and names of Bharat Ratna awardees. The standard 5 child stands in her school uniform, having just come back after giving an exam. "I had exams the whole of last week and no books to study from," she complains. "The teacher told me to copy down whatever I could from my friends' books and learn it at home. But this is really difficult for me," she adds. The uniform along with two other pieces of her clothing, were the only dresses that survived the fire in her home.
Her mother Jayanthi, wore her nightdress for three continuous days before a neighbour lent her some clothes. "Some volunteers cooked food for us for three days and we have been taking baths in other people's houses. But what will we do without a roof over our heads? We have all been sleeping on the roads with our children in the cold. The children get really scared at night. Is it not the Government's responsibility to help us?" asks Jayanthi.
In a rectangular plot near Jayanthi's house, an orange building stands out for the mere fact that it is the only residence that has not been burnt to the ground. A look inside, however, tells a different story. There are deep cracks, apparently caused by the fire in the hall and the bedroom is worse off. The fire reportedly spread through the open window and damaged all the clothes and furniture in the room. "My husband and I are scared to stay in the house because it looks like it will collapse," says Nishanthi. "But we have two small daughters. We can't keep them outside.On Saturday, a 3-year-old child was abducted and murdered nearby,' she whispers.
Outside, a Tata Sumo leads a small minivan into the lane. The DMK MLA, KP Samy has come with several of his supporters. In the minivan behind him are at least 30 bags of rice and clothes for the villagers.
"They are almost mocking us," the villagers say in hushed tones. "We don't even have kitchens and utensils. Where do we cook?" they ask angrily.
There is a flurry of activity as soon as the MLA arrives. Chairs are pushed around, a makeshift table is laid with the rice packets adorning it and several photos are immediately taken. When The News Minute approached the MLA, he claimed that, "We have given them all Rs 5000 and rice. I have brought some clothes for them now. The needful will be done. As far as rebuilding their houses are concerned, documents are required for that." But several of them don't have documents and won't it take some time before the registration process is completed? By then, they will start fixing the houses themselves," he adds.
The residents, however, are not satisfied with this claim. "I took a loan of only one lakh last year to put this thatched roof over my house," claims Kannan, who came back to his house when he heard of the fire three days back. "I haven't finished repaying that. How can anyone expect me to fix all this myself. I am just a fishermen," he claims.
"This is the fourth such fire in the last 25 years in this area," claims a middle-aged woman, as she waits in the queue to collect rice and some clothes. "We don't have the money to replace the thatched roofs and know that the poor like us can't expect much from the administration," she says, refusing to divulge her name. "We have even lost our identity proof this time. We are actually now a bunch of nobodys," she adds, moving ahead.