‘We're safer in the sea than on land'

Front row tickets are what Kumari Jayaraman and her friends had purchased. The seats were adjoining their hutments at the Olcott Kuppam in Besant Nagar and the screen was the Bay of Bengal. The show they were waiting for was a remake of real life experiences from December 2004.

Efforts of policemen to evacuate people from the beach did not deter some families of fishermen from squatting in front of their huts in anticipation of the tsunami. “When the waves surge, we will run for safety,” said R. Deepa.

“I did not even leave when my hut was underwater last time the tsunami hit. Why would I leave now?” said Kumari, maintaining a steady glance at the unruly sea. In the background, a public service message was being played out through loudspeakers attached to an autorickshaw: ‘Chennai Corporation requests all of you to refrain from entering the sea.'

In the distance, hundreds of police personnel had successfully evacuated the public off Elliot's beach and were involved in a march of some sort, up and down the length of the beach.

Just like everyone else in the city, these fisher folk in south Chennai too, felt the tremors of Wednesday's earthquake that struck off the coast of Indonesia. “It is impossible to predict the arrival of a tsunami. We have experienced it just once and we did not notice anything significant in the waves then either,” said 67-year-old C. Raj, a resident of Olcott Kuppam. But the earthquake and the alert that followed gave them confidence that they would have enough time to evacuate.

The waves and its memories left others philosophical. “Our entire lives revolve around the sea and fishing nets. If a tsunami hits, we will lose everything. We would rather go with the water this time,” said P. Murthy, another fisherman. “It is safer to be in the sea than on land.”

‘Tsunami Tourism' was what was being played out on the beaches of Besant Nagar and Thiruvanmiyur —the assembling did not wish to miss the spectacle. They came from various parts of the city, and some of them carried cameras to capture every moment of a possible tsunami.

“We came from our office in Thoraipakkam but it doesn't seem like anything will happen,” said a disappointed R. Hariharasubramaniyam, who was at the beach with his colleague.

Lining the streets were several onlookers like him, many who looked disappointed as the waves returned to normal.

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