Hindol Sengupta

Port Blair, January 2:

Three days ago, they were saying over 10,000 people are either dead or missing in the Andaman and Nicobar islands. Now authorities insist the number of dead is a little over 800 and over 5,000 are missing.

So what happened to the others? Where are they? How do the figures add up? There are no answers to these questions. Authorities here are refusing to answer why the toll was suddenly and dramatically reduced and what happened to the people earlier suspected to be affected by giant tidal waves of Dec 26.

Especially confusing is the case of Car Nicobar, where for four days after the tragedy administrators claimed that of a population of 20,000 at least half were missing or dead. Some, like former MP Bishnu Pad Ray, said at least 20,000 were dead or missing.

But now the overall toll for the group of 572 islands, islets and rocks has fallen to much, much less, with no account given for the imbalance. This is not the time for figures,” says Andaman chief secretary VV Bhat. “The picture is still not clear,” adds police chief SB Deol.