Dec 23, 2011 at 11:26am IST

Midnight mayhem that washed away lives

PAMANATHAPURAM: Residents of Rameswaram still shudder at the thought of the cyclone that struck Dhanuskodi some 47 years ago. The dreams of many men and women were washed away in the nature’s fury that hit the town this day in 1964.
Around 300 people, including a group of medical students on their way to Dhanuskodi onboard a train, died in the tragedy that struck around midnight when fishermen and tourists were fast asleep in their dwellings.
It took only a few seconds for the giant waves and gusty winds to wreak havoc. And in minutes the topography of Dhanuskodi was changed to what it is today — a ghost town.
Before the cyclone, Dhan- uskodi was a major town on the Pamban-Rameswaram rail route. Devotees, tourists and other officials frequented the place to take a holy dip in sea before visiting the Rameswaram shrine. Those taking the train alighted at the Puduroad Railway Station (not present now), located between Dhanuskodi and Pamban.
Bullock and horse carts were quite popular then. Tourists used to engage them to reach Rameswaram, situated three km from the Puduroad Railway Station. The sea and the thick forest cover were the attractions on this route.
Dhanuskodi was also a major port in southern Tamil Nadu with a customs office functioning there. Two ships — Irwin and Goshen — operated between Dhanuskodi and Thalaimannar in Sri Lanka before the cyclone. Making use of the ships, the traders and businessmen transported goods to Sri Lanka and promoted their business there.
Residents still clearly remember the day cyclone struck. “Some tourists had stayed in rented tiled roof houses. So they escaped the tragedy,” said Devadas, a fisherman association leader from Rameswaram.
Chellam of Natarajapuram said the night of cyclone was terrible with very high wind velocity. “Altogether, it was very noisy. We came to know about the extent of destruction only the next morning,” he added.
Arulanantham, state coordinator for Alliance for the Release of Innocent Fishermen (ARIF), said some fishermen and several tourists were killed in the Dhanuskodi cyclone. “The senior citizens of Rameswaram Island still remember the tragedy. Even residents of Pamban could not sleep that night. It was raining heavily.”
Though people claim that around 300 people died in the incident, no proper records are available.
The damaged railway station, church, customs office and other buildings still dot the area, giving a sense of the volume of  estruction.