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  • The Scene

    26th December 2004

    It was a pleasant Sunday morning and people were relaxing and enjoying the wafting morning breeze at the Marina Beach.  The tourists were reveling in the sight of the Sun  -  a ball of fire rising out of the sea. The youngsters in the group dared the sea and went into the waters as if challenging its intrusion only to draw back realising its overbearing might. The experienced elders preferred to sit on the edge of the shoreline  -  soaking up the morning rays of light and savouring every moment of the tranquility that the beach offered . 

    A distance from the waterline, the morning joggers were panting through their daily routine  and over-working their lungs in an attempt to cut their cholestrol and control their run-away blood sugar levels. Then you had the group of staid walkers on the cobbled walkways who maintained their rhythm with their strolling partners. 

    There were teams and teams of children (everyone with a dream to represent the nation) playing cricket and vying with each other, exhibiting their prowess and innocence.

    And away at a distance, the fishermen had just come in their catamarans and motorized boats with their cache of fish and assorted crustaceans, their young ones and womenfolk sifting through the largesse offered by the sea and went about their businesses of wholesaling them to traders.

    It was a pleasant and usual Sunday morning till then.  And then, the tsunami struck.

    The Tsunami

    Tsunamis are a series of very long waves generated by any rapid, large-scale disturbance of the sea. Most are generated by sea floor displacements from large undersea earthquakes. Tsunamis can cause great destruction and loss of life within minutes on shores near their source, and some tsunamis can cause destruction within hours across an entire ocean basin.

    Most tsunamis occur in the Pacific region but they are known to happen in every ocean and sea. Although infrequent, tsunamis are a significant natural hazard with great destructive potential. They can only be dealt with effectively through programs of warning, mitigation, and education.

    The Happening

    At about 6:30 AM (Indian Standard Time), an oceanic earthquake of 9.0 Magnitude ruptured the sea-bed located at a point west of the coast of Northern  Sumatra that generated a massive tsunami that was 900 kilometers long and 100 kilometers wide.  It reached the shores of Chennai city about 120 minutes later while simultaneously lashing the northern and southern coastal districts in Tamil Nadu.

The loss of human lives  -  in such a short span of time and so unexpected a quarter  -  was great and the trail of destruction that the tsunami left behind was huge.  It displaced thousands and thousands of people from their homes who were clueless of the disaster that engulfed their lives.  Tsunamis were unheard of in the region.

It was the frail and the old that fell victims to Nature’s quirk and fury ; a large percentage of men, women and children who were asleep at that time were drowned in the tsunami’s unstoppable march of death

By now thousands were dead. Hundreds of villages and hamlets were either wiped off from the face of the earth or were decimated or are now just classified as debris.  The foreign-sounding and never-before-seen phenomenon of the seas crippled and shattered the dreams of countless souls.  It took away parents from their children ; brothers from their sisters ; friends and alike ; the tsunami never discriminated in claiming human or animal life on its onward surge  -  till its strength was completely dissipated and tamely walked out hanging its head in shame for having caused this level of incomprehensible destruction.

The tsunami has affected 2,260 kilometers of the coastal belt of India.
The worst affected state is Tamil Nadu. And the most affected parts is the coastal belt of Chennai, Kanchipuram, Cuddalore, Nagapattinam and Kanyakumari, In all, 13 districts of Tamil Nadu have been affected by this killer tsunami. The death toll  final people

The Action

The devastation of this unprecedented magnitude has brought in its wake trials and tribulations, crisis and concern.

The Helping Hand is not the one to sit and watch in times of calamity, be it natural or man-made. It immediately sprung into action within hours of the disaster. A separate relief wing under the name “Tamil Nadu Relief Committee” was formed to achieve the following objectives :

1. To mobilize its cadre and reach out to the people in distress
2. To undertake a concerted assessment of the needs of the affected people
3. To facilitate the availability of

v safe drinking water
v food
v medicines
v clothing
v cooking utensils and provisions

4.       To assist in burying the dead and clearing the accumulated debris and work hand-in-hand with government machinery wherever necessary

5.       To arrange for temporary sheltering of the affected and displaced  people that is designed to suit prevailing and local conditions

6.       To provide psycho-social support to the traumatized particularly the children and women who constitute one-third of the tsunami victims

7.       To guide the affected people in such a manner that would help them obtain and derive the maximum benefit from the Government’s relief and rehabilitation schemes

8.       To take concerted action in providing permanent houses for a few hundred affected people thereby helping them find some solace and comfort in the days ahead

Towards a Coordinated Effort

The consequences of this disaster of an unprecedented scale demands a high-level of coordination and cooperation between the relief workers and the agencies.  The Tamil Nadu Relief Committee , Tamil Nadu registered itself -  at the Government desk as well as in the coordinating Agency of NGO’s -  as a Non-Governmental Organization.
The TNRC extends its support and coordinates with the Government and co-NGOs engaged in all relief and rehabilitation programs. Members of the TNRC participated in the NGO-Community Group-TN Government Information Exchange and Preliminary Assessment Meeting initiated by the Bhoomika Trust, Chennai on the 2nd of January 2005.   

The TNRC has taken upon itself the responsibility of providing

    • v      psycho-social counseling
    • v      rescue and relief operations
    • v      restoration and rehabilitation works

    The TNRC is also coordinating with heads of village administration, local religious leaders and other stakeholders in order to see that the relief has reached the affected people.                       

    Some Observations from the Affected Areas

    • 1.         Nearly a third of the dead are women and children
    • 2.         An overwhelming majority of the people affected by the tsunami are fishermen.  They require relief and rehabilitation
    • 3.         Almost all the boats, nets and catamarans that were on the coast at the time of the disaster are either lost or damaged beyond repair
    • 4.         Though heaps of debris were cleared by NGOs, dead bodies were  handled by the youth belonging to various Muslim organizations and local Muslim Jam’aaths
    • 5.         The primary rehabilitation needs of the people are housing and re-starting of their livelihoods
    • 6.         In places like Colachal, Nagoor, Cuddalore, Velankanni and Nagapattinam  -  apart from fishermen  -   hundreds of traders and daily wage-earners have been severely affected
    • 7.         Relief and Rehabilitation measures provided by the Government has not reached the affected people  -  particularly, those located in remote areas
    • 8.         Many villages have been washed out and there are hardly any traces of their remains
    • 9.         While in many villages and hamlets the population had been rendered homeless due to inhabitable conditions, the poor who lived on the beachfront have lost their huts and houses completely
    • 10.     The education of the traumatized children is a cause of concern and is of high priority
    • 11.     About 1,000 petty shops on the Marina beach and most of the shops in Vailankanni have been washed out
    • 12.     The media has highlighted the impact of the tsunami in fishing villages while the fact remains that there are many non-fishing hamlets  -  which are significant in number  -  that have been greatly affected

    Provided in the next page is a “Report of Death and Damages” as released by the Information Cell of the Government of Tamil Nadu

    Government  Information Cell

    Revenue Administration Disaster Management and Mitigation Department

    (as on 20th January 2005 at 10:00 Hrs. IST)

    Sl. No.

    Districts affected

    No. of Villages/



    No. of
    Lives Lost

    No. injured









































































































    Actual number of deaths, extent of damage and devastation is much higher than what these official figures depict. 

    TNRC forms Four Hubs

    Having surveyed the affected areas, the Tamil Nadu Relief Committee has found that the Nagapattinam area is the worst-affected followed by Cuddalore and Colachal in Kanyakumari District. The coastal areas of Chennai have also been badly-affected 

    In order to facilitate the smooth conduct of relief and restoration and reconstruction and rehabilitation, the TNRC has established “hubs” in four different areas :

     1.       Chennai :            for areas in & around Chennai, Kanchipuram &  Tiruvallur Districts 

    2.       Nagoor town :        Nagapattinam and Karaikal Districts 

    3.       Cuddalore:            Pondicherry, Villupuram and Cuddalore Districts 

    4.       Colachal:                Kanyakumari District 

    (The last hub is managed and maintained by the Jamaat-e-Islami Hind, Kerala unit with the active participation of the volunteers of Ideal Relief Wing (IRW) and Madhyamam Health Care Unit

    The Tamil Nadu Relief Committee strives in its efforts to provide help to the affected people by clearly demarcating the areas of work into three categories  :

    1.      Relief & Rescue

    2.      Restoration & Reconstruction

    3.      Rehabilitation

    • 1.      RELIEF & RESCUE

    Hundreds of dead bodies were taken out and buried by the volunteers of various organizations - particularly Muslim -  including the volunteers of the TNRC.  Those who were affected  -  but are alive  -  were taken to several campsites. 

    • a.       In order to help the affected people regain their immediate footing, an emergency “RELIEF KIT” was provided that contained the following items  :

    Mat, bedsheet, lungi, saree, towel, stove, utensils, grocery, soap, toothpowder, milk packets, biscuits, brush, comb, hair oil etc.

    • b.      “FAMILY KITS” were provided by other voluntary agencies that included daily provisions, utensils, clothes, tarpaulins which in turn were distributed by the members of the TNRC. About 1,700 families were given these Family Kits
    • c.       For the affected and displaced families who were sheltered in campsites, “JANATA KITS” comprising of dhal, rice and other provisions were provided
    • d.      One 20’ container consisting of provisions like rice, dhal, soap, clothes and vessels were given to the affected people in the camps at Colachal

    Till the 19th of January 2005, about 5,200 families have benefited from the relief work that was undertaken by the Tamil Nadu Relief Committee and the total amount that had been spent under this head is Rs. 62.00 lakhs


    Now that the first phase of relief is nearing completion, the second phase of activity  -  namely, restoring normalcy - has commenced in several places


    Works like cleaning the houses ; carrying out minor repair works ; paving the way for macadam roads ; cleaning debris and shrubs ; facilitating health, hygiene and medicare; restoring places of worship ; providing toys and biscuits

    for children and supplying good quality drinking water for thousands of people have and are being executed In Colachal, camps were set up at the initial stage that sheltered 300 families.   In those camps, extensive medical care is being extended to the affected people apart from providing food, drinking water, clothing etc. In two particular camps, extensive medical treatment was provided to the affected. Various voluntary agencies have also lent a helping hand in these areas

    In Nagapattinam, thousands of affected people were provided with safe drinking water


    People affected by the tsunami are in a state of shock. For the first time in living memory, the fishing community has developed a “fear of the sea”. The trauma that they have undergone  -   particularly the children and the women  -  has been extensive.  The tsunami has frightened them out of their wits and they are people who have been psychologically shaken.  The need of the hour is to offer them words of solace. Counselling is the keyword and the people are to be handled with sensitivity. Volunteers of the TNRC   -  both men and women  -  therefore, met hundreds of people affected, talked to them, consoled them, and wiped away their tears when they re-enacted the horror of the tsunami. The volunteers partook in “community feasts” (known as sambanthi food) that aimed at making the affected people understand that there were human people beside them in times of trials and tribulations The TNRC firmly believes that providing relief to the tsunami affected is not a work of charity but a duty and responsibility of every human being. This philosophy is being emphasized during the course of the many discussions and conversations that volunteers have with individuals and groups of people so that they (the affected people) do not carry the cross and stigma of having received charity

    Counselling has made a profound impact on the psyche of the affected people and that palpable difference can be seen around many of our relief camps


    Based on the survey of the loss of property, tools-of-the-trade, nets, catamarans and boats of the fishermen and the needs of the affected families, the TNRC has proposed the following programme for providing them the necessary rehabilitation  :

    a.        Temporary Shelters

    1.        It is proposed to build 350-500 temporary shelters measuring 10’ x 12’ with lite roofing so that people who are sheltered in ashrams, marriage halls and schools can be given this accommodation for a period of about 3-6 months till more permanent arrangements are made.  The estimated cost is around Rs.35.00 lakhs. Already, 100 such shelters have been provided at Nagapattinam (adjacent to the District Collectorate) at a cost of about Rs.7, 000/- each  and many more are underway. Sum spent under this head  :  Rs.7.00 lakhs 

    2.       Damaged houses are to be repaired and renovated.  In Colachal (Kanyakumari District), Vayalikuppam (near Chennai), Tirumalaivasal and Erattaikamal Theru (Nagapattinam District), a survey has indiacted that 200 houses are to be repaired at a cost of Rs. 25,000/- each that would amount to a total of Rs. 50.00 lakhs  

    b.        Livelihood Scheme

    As the saying goes: Don’t give them fish ; teach them how to fish. The need is to make the affected people come out of the “rehabilitation mindset” and the aim of the TNRC is bring about their economic stability while helping them regain their independence

    1.       Petty traders who have lost everything and want to re-start their respective occupations will be provided with tools-of-the-trade or cash or both so that they can establish themselves. This scheme is being implemented in and around Chennai, Cuddalore, Nagapattinam and Colachal areas 

    2.       The process of a detailed survey is underway   -  and in some cases,  like Kasimedu in Chennai  -   the survey has been completed with regard to the loss incurred by petty and small traders, vendors and road-side shop-keepers. About 200 such traders have been identified at the time of compiling  this report and a sum of Rs.20.00 lakhs will be incurred that would provide them a platform to re-build their lives.  Many more of the affected traders are in the stage of completing the confirmation process of their respective identification  -  after which  -  the scheme will have to be extended for their benefit 

    3.       Over 2.89 lakhs fisherfolks have been rendered without a livelihood with the loss of their fishing gear   -   nets, catamarans and motorboats.  The list of the affected fishermen is being prepared and the losses are being compiled 

    4.       In order to provide catamarans and nets to the fishermen, we need to allocate Rs. 15,000 to Rs. 20,000 per catamaran. According to one report, there are ten types of fishing nets that are used by the fishermen and this depends upon the different seasons.  The TNRC is in the process of evolving a plan to provide catamarans to some, nets to some and both catamarans and nets to some and boats to a few 

    5.       Due to soil erosion caused by the tsunami, the agricultural lands near the seashore -  for example Anjikani in Kalpakkam near Chennai, has become unfit to cultivation and will be so for a few years 

    6.       Surveys are being taken in this regard so that some of the affected people are provided with alternate means of livelihood

    • c.        Permanent Colonies  

    A preliminary survey undertaken by the members of the Tamil Nadu Relief Committee recommend that 500 houses be constructed in different areas as under: 

    • 1.       Selladi at Nagoor                         :               350 houses
    • 2.       Kottakuppam near Pondy         :               100 houses
    • 3.       Colachal near Nagercoil            :                 50 houses

    It is proposed to construct a block of 50 houses that would have its own community centre, primary health unit etc.  Each of these houses would measure about 400 square feet and is estimated to cost Rs.1.50 lakhs per house.   

    However, the Government of Tamil Nadu insists that a proposal be submitted by each NGO that would cover  -  at the least  -  50 families and they have indicated a tentative project cost of Rs.75.00 lakhs comprising of the following components  

    • ·         Rs.25.00 lakhs for developing the houses
    • ·         Rs.25.00 lakhs for providing of common infrastructural facilities
    • ·         Rs.25.00 lakhs for livelihood support.

    The land be provided by the Government of Tamil Nadu. 

    The Tamil Nadu Relief Committee has taken up the challenging task of rebuilding the lives of the tsunami-affected people.  It hopes to provide permanent houses  -  including the necessary infrastructure  -  for 500 families and the tentative project cost is Rs.7.50 crores

    The families would be chosen from the areas of Selladi, Kottakuppam and Colachal and survey work pertaining to identification of the beneficiaries is underway and is expected to be completed shortly.                                                                                     


    As can be seen from the above, providing Rescue & Relief, Restoration & Rehabilitation -  both temporary and permanent  -  to the poorest and the worst-affected families of the tsunami disaster  -  is a gigantic and philanthropic task that requires a corpus of about Rs.10.00 crores.  

    The Purpose of sharing this information with prospective donors  -  both individuals and institutions -  is to provide them an opportunity to share the grief and loss of the people affected by the tsunami disaster.

    The Director of Rural Development, Government of Tamil Nadu has appreciated our work as “selfless and commendable service” in assisting the district administration in Tsunami Relief Operations and particularly our assistance in providing basic needs to the people, counseling and construction of temporary shelters.

    The Tamil Nadu Relief Committee earnestly appeals to generous-hearted individuals and institutions to come forward, liberally, in extending their co-operation and contribution in this hour of crisis.

    May God reward  -  both in this world and the Hereafter  -  all those who donate in cash or kind in the cause of the tsunami-affected people.

    May God add to the strength of those selfless volunteers who work ceaselessly in the rescue, relief, restoration, rehabilitation and reconstruction programmes

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