Saturday, December 24, 2005

Tsunami-hit villagers await Vivek Oberoi's return - WebIndia

Tsunami-hit villagers await Vivek Oberoi's return

Actor Vivek Oberoi is a real life hero for Devanampattinam, a fishing village in Tamil Nadu where he helped villagers find the rhythm of life after last year's disastrous tsunami.

Squatting on the cemented floor of his hut built by Vivek soon after the Dec 26, 2004, disaster, Velumurgan, 16, told IANS: "The actor helped us stand up when we were down. He promised to help us start walking again."

The teenager quickly added: "But Vivek never came back again."

Following the devastation in the village, 10 km away from Cuddalore town, Vivek built 100 huts at a location nearly two kilometres away from the coast under his project called "Hope".

The administration has also built 200 huts at the same location.

A total of some 2,500 people live in these huts, most of which have palm leaves for roofs. The others have cemented sheets as roofing and steel sheets as walls.

Muthuraman, the district coordinator for the NGO Mata Amritanandamayi Math, which has been associated with the rehabilitation work, said: "Vivek completed the first two stages of rehabilitation work quickly. First relief and rescue and, second, providing temporary shelter.

"He also wanted to be involved in the third stage - to provide livelihood support and permanent shelter.

"But he left his work half done because of his clash with the state government and interference of others engaged in rehabilitation work. Seeing him attracting attention, they wanted him away from the place as soon as possible."

The government had accused Vivek of drawing "maximum publicity" for doing "nothing tangible".

Following that, the Bollywood star moved his housing project to neighbouring Pondicherry, where he recently completed reconstruction of nearly 100 dwellings.

In Cuddalore district, where around 500 people perished in the tsunami waves, the administration has still not been able to complete the 642 brick-and-mortar houses it undertook for construction.

These are expected to be ready by the middle of January - in time for the Pongal festival.

Admitting that rains had seriously hampered the construction of permanent shelters, Cuddalore district collector Gagandeep Singh Bedi said: "We are racing against time to complete the houses."

Many villagers, while being grateful to Vivek, are not happy with the palm leaf roofs.

"This is not sufficient to prevent rain water from seeping into our huts. When it rains, we go to a nearby temple," said 45-year-old Umaya, who sent her daughter Bhubaneswari, 22, to stay with her brother in Chennai because of the difficult living conditions in the village.

Though the government-built huts seem better, the low ground level makes them unsuitable during monsoon.

Anpalagan, 70, said: "These huts look solid comparatively. But when it rains, water enters because of their low ground level. It creates water-logging because of the way they have been made."

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