Those hit by the tsunami in 2004 call him the "people's collector". Meet J Radhakrishnan, who spearheaded relief and rehabilitation efforts after the tsunami.
On the morning of December 26, 2004, Radhakrishnan, then collector of Thanjavur, was summoned to Nagapattinam and told large waves had hit coastal areas in the state, resulting in casualties. This came on the heels of his heading relief efforts after a fire at a school in Kumbakonam killed 94 students.
Recalling the impact of the tsunami, Radhakrishnan says, " We did not even get time to think; we just stepped into action."
Once in Akkaraipettai, assuring those affected was important. "We had been with them, worked with them and had to be a part of them. That was the confidence we built in people's minds," he says.
He lauds the state government's decision to set up teams for each area. "Confidence rose in each of these areas."
The tsunami resulted in large-scale loss of livelihood. It took about a year for people to return to their trades. "I really admire their resilience and learnt many things from survivors," he adds.
Born on September 16, 1966, Radhakrishnan passed the civil services exam in 1992 and was appointed assistant collector of Madurai in 1993. During 1994-96, as Tuticorin's sub-collector, he efficiently handled caste clashes in the region. In 1996-1999, he was deputy secretary (finance). In 2000-01, he was appointed Chennai Corporation commissioner.
The locals hold Radhakrishnan in high esteem. A villager in Akkaraipettai said following the tsunami, all government vehicles were heading away from the village; Radhakrishnan's was the only one approaching it.
"Radhakrishnan ensured we got proper aid. God sent him as an angel to this place," said Parameshwar, who lost 10 relatives to the tsunami.