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The killer waves again? Just rumours

Why is this rumour rampant across Andaman? Mayank Tewari finds out.

india Updated: Dec 22, 2005 18:45 IST

Everyone in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands believes there is going to be a major tsunami on December 26. Tribal lords at Hutbay, in Car Nicobar and other southern islands have asked people to stay indoors.

This is no ordinary rumour. Its source is the office of the chief secretary, Andaman and Nicobar Islands. Here is what happened.

The chief secretary’s office received a letter from Ashim Khurana, joint secretary (disaster management), Home Ministry, in October. The letter, sent in September, talked of the “possibility of a major earthquake near Indonesia in the near future”.

The letter was based on an article a group of scientists — led by John McCloskey (University of Ulster, UK) — wrote in the science journal Nature in June this year, The scientists had earlier predicted the earthquake that hit Sumatra on March 28 this year.

The paper talked about the possibility of an earthquake near Indonesia measuring between 7.5 and 10 on the Richter scale. They claimed a tsunami would follow.

Government officials in Port Blair said as soon as the letter arrived, the news spread like wild fire and copies of the letter were circulated. "People do not understand that this is a possibility and not a prediction. Many people have not even begun reconstructing their shops," said an official.

The home ministry informed the science and technology department, which agreed with the article. Australia also closely followed the Nature article. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation interviewed John McCloskey and an Australian expert John Schneider on June 10. The two concluded that the quake and the tsunami would impact Australia. The waves, in such a case, would reach Perth, they said.

Andaman and Nicobar authorities went into damage-control mode as December 26 neared. Secretary (science and technology) S.R. Mehta issued a statement on November 23 saying no letter from the home ministry came. However, such statements seldom find their way to fishermen and tribals.

First Published: Dec 22, 2005 02:32 IST