FIRST HAND STORY: G. Balan swimming through crocodilesIf it wasn’t already bad enough trying to flee the waves – image having to fight crocodiles and a phython. Welcome to India.
For G. Balan, a gut-wrenching obstacle stood between his tsunami-devastated village and possible safety: a lagoon teeming with crocodiles.
Lucky for him and others who managed to swim across, the crocs were too busy feeding on the corpses of humans and animals to take any notice.
"We realized that there was certain death on this side, so we decided to cross and take the risk. It was hide-and-seek, but we swam across," Balan said Friday after being flown to Port Blair, territorial capital of India's remote Andaman and Nicobar island chain.
His ordeal on Campbell Island started with the shaking of a teacup Sunday morning. Then the sea seemed to explode.
"You want to imagine the waves? Look at this huge coconut tree," Balan said, gesturing toward a tree at the refugee camp. "There was a coconut tree like this next to my house. The water went over it. That high."
He said people screamed and prayed as they ran from the surging sea. Balan fled with his wife and others to a hilltop. They had no food.
A group of youths went into the forest to find streams and bring back water in plastic cans swept inland by the waves. Balan led others to a wrecked government compound where they stole rice that they boiled and ate.
The next day the survivors walked to a nearby harbor and a rescue boat came. When the boat was full, Balan and the others headed off toward the next harbor, 11 miles away.
In their path was the crocodile lagoon.
"If they had seen me, they would have caught me by the stomach. They catch the soft part of the body and drag you away," Balan said.
The encounter with crocodiles wasn't the only brush with wildlife on the island chain. Another refugee, building contractor Raj Ratnam, said he was swept up to the top of a tree and clung to it for three days -- with a giant python twirled around the trunk for company.
As reported in the Detroit Free Press by Free Press news services on January 1, 2005