This IAF team rebuilt an entire Air Force Station after 2004 Tsunami on the Car Nicobar islands
news Friday, December 26, 2014 - 05:30
Shilpa Raina(IANS) | The News Minute | December 25, 2014 | 05.05 pm IST When an Indian Air Force(IAF) aircraft landed at the devastated Car Nicobar Island six days after the devastating 2004 tsunami had hit the island in the middle of the Indian Ocean, the 70 personnel on board were welcomed by the salty smell of sea and the rotten odour of flora and fauna. In the following months, these personnel discovered many decomposed bodies buried under wreckage carrying gold and money and they would often stumble across human bones during their long walks on the beach. "It is human instinct that when one senses danger, the first thing they think of is saving their life and then getting hold of valuables like money and gold. This is what, I think, many people did who sensed danger but weren't spared," Air Commodore Nitin Sathe, then a wing commander and who was given the charge of operations and handling relief and rehabilitation funds, told IANS in an interview. The details of how this group of dedicated IAF men worked collectively and cohesively not just to rebuild the Air Force Station at India's southernmost point that was completely engulfed by the giant ocean waves but also how they simultaneously contributed to rehabilitating locals, mostly tribal communities, are highlighted in Air Cmde Sathe's debut book "A Few Good Men and the Angry Sea" (Vitasta). "In the first few months, we discovered several bodies under the wreckage. Dogs would fight for their flesh and there were bones strewn across the beach. It wasn't a pleasant site, but we were never depressed because our job was to rebuild and get lives of people back on track," added Air Cmde Sathe, who is currently posted in the recruitment directorate. Sathe had to create a mechanism in which relief items were properly distributed and had to ensure smooth landing and takeoff of aircraft from the damaged runway. "There were no jetties for boats; so aircraft were the only option to distribute relief material and reach out to other islands within the vicinity," the 50-year-old officer recalled. "The runway was broken at many places and we had to fill it with stones and sand to smoothen the cracks each time an aircraft landed or took off. It was a lot of hard work and during the initial days used to work 15-16 hours in a day," he added. He was however quick to add that none of the personnel cracked under pressure and were fortunate to receive unconditional love and support from the local community which he thinks is "resilient". "When it comes to working on a tragedy people get together round-the-clock without cribbing about it," he said. Sathe recollected how during the first six months of their stay in the island they experienced over 200 earthquakes, but it was the mosquitoes they were afraid of. "We were never afraid of earthquakes, but we were sacred of mosquitoes because there was a possibility of getting cerebral malaria that is extremely dangerous. So we used to have an 'Odomos parade' in the evening where everyone was required to apply it for protection," he revealed. And the effort of rebuilding was visible when Air Cmde Sathe revisited the island earlier this year and saw that the saplings they had planted had grown big. But the ruins of buildings are still visible in Car Nicobar, which hasn't completely recovered from the wreckage as debris from those times still lies scattered along the beaches in some places. "We managed to rebuild the Air Force Station but now it is no more a family station. It is a field area because sea has eaten up a lot of our base area and for construction of houses we need land," he said. "The debris strewn around here and there still reminds you of the havoc and devastation of that morning," he concluded.
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