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I see the water coming

Pastor Richard Anbunathan bends over a woman who kneels before him at the altar rail of Trinity Lutheran Church, Nagaparttinam. The woman, a police officer, comes to the church each morning seeking prayer and blessing so she can face her day.

It does little good for her to close her eyes to the massive destruction and suffering around her. Indelible images are burned deeply into her mind, even haunting her sleep.

Her closed eyes see the faces of grotesque suffering: the battered, bloodied and bloated bodies of dead men, women and children — hundreds of children.

She has seen too much to live comfortably with her own soul. The woman, a Hindu, comes to the church each day for prayer "to calm her to go back to work," Anbunathan says. She comes here because the church was a place of sanctuary, where people were fed, clothed and allowed to sleep in the days and weeks immediately following the disaster.

Three weeks after towering waves pummeled the waterfront markets, homes and fishing port here, dozens of boats — 40- and 50-foot wooden trawlers — are randomly strewn along dirt streets. More are smashed and piled willy-nilly atop each other, clogging the harbor. Others are thrown over crushed bridges and retaining walls into a lagoon.

People walk from food and medical distribution sites past boats that were lifted and tossed over two- and three-story concrete buildings that still stand, though most are shattered or badly beaten. One man distractedly rakes pieces of trash from the dirt in front of a shop. The apocalyptic destruction that surrounds him makes his efforts appear absurd.

More than 6,000 were killed in the Nagarparttinam region and more are missing. Here in the harbor area, more than 500 died; more than 280 of these were children. It could have been worse. The tsunami hit on a Sunday morning. Large elementary and secondary schools near the water were empty.

People here echo fears heard up and down the south Indian coast, showing obvious signs of post-traumatic stress: They fear the water. They fear the night. They have trouble sleeping. They don't want to close their eyes. When they do they "see the water coming."

The Tamil Evangelical Lutheran Church serves this area of India. It continues to provide food, rice, clothes, stoves, utensils, school supplies and uniforms — and spiritual care — for thousands through its partnership with the United Evangelical Lutheran Church of India. It is also building temporary shelters.

While such physical needs continue, issues of the restoration of livelihood and psychological care will increasingly come into focus. The UELCI developed a multiyear plan for dealing with these issues.

The ELCA sent an initial $40,000 directly to the UELCI and pledged its continuing support as specific rehabilitation work is planned — for the months and years that recovery will take. This is in addition to the $320,000 the ELCA dispersed through other partners in the Action by Churches Together disaster response network, as of this date.


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