Asian Tsunami Heros

Monday, January 10, 2005

French engineers thanked

PONDICHERRY, India -- Religious devotees believe a divine force saved this port city from last week's tsunami, but the vendors who sell fruit and snacks next to the sea say it really was France.

During the city's nearly three centuries as a French colonial enclave, French engineers built and maintained a massive, stone sea wall that kept Pondicherry's historic center dry even though tsunami waves drove water 24 feet above the normal high-tide mark.

"The water rose quickly, up to the main road," said M. Keshavan, a 23-year-old who sells mangos and crispy snacks to tourists visiting the wall. He pointed to a two-foot retaining wall next to the road that runs along the top of the sea wall: "It stopped there."

The Pondicherry district recorded some 600 deaths from the huge waves that struck India's southeastern coast after a mammoth earthquake off Indonesia, but most of those killed were fishermen who lived in villages beyond the man-made barrier.

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