MADRAS, India – Massive tidal waves triggered by an Indonesian earthquake slammed into southern India Sunday, killing more than 2,000 people and sweeping away boats, homes and vehicles, officials said.
The worst affected area was Tamil Nadu (search) state, where 1,567 people were killed "in the disaster that struck this morning," said the state's top elected official, Chief Minister Jayaram Jayalalithaa.
Earlier, federal Home Minister Shivraj Patil said 200 people were killed in neighboring Andhra Pradesh state. At least 102 people were killed in the federally administered territory of Pondicherry near Tamil Nadu, Pondicherry Chief Minister N. Rangasamy said.
Tamil Nadu's beaches resembled open-air mortuaries as fishermen's bodies washed ashore, and retreating waters left behind others killed inland. At least 200 people died in Tamil Nadu's capital, Madras, alone.
Sea water flooded the streets of Cuddalore town, flipping over dozens of cars and leaving some vehicles perched atop road dividers. Many cars were seen floating in the streets like boats.
"My heart goes out in sympathy to all those families who have lost their dear ones due to this tragedy," Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said in a televised statement.
Residents of Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh state spoke of 12-foot (four-meter) walls of water slamming into the shore.
"I was shocked to see innumerable fishing boats flying on the shoulder of the waves, going back and forth into the sea, as if made of paper," said P. Ramanamurthy, 40, who lives in Andhra Pradesh's Kakinada town.
"Many boats were upturned, but fishermen were still holding onto them. They also were pushed into the sea," he said. "I had never imagined anything like this could happen."
Meanwhile, the second unit of the Madras Atomic Power Station in Tamil Nadu was shut down after water entered the plant, official said. There was no damage or radiation leak, they said.
Among those killed in Andhra Pradesh were 32 people, including 15 children, who had gone into the sea for a Hindu religious bath to mark the full moon day, police said. They said 20,000 people were evacuated in four districts.
The federal government's Cabinet Secretary B. K. Chaturvedi told reporters that the Indian air force would air drop food packets, medicines and diesel generating sets in the affected areas.
Authorities were also considering evacuating tourists from the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, he said
Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu states are on India's southeastern coast along the Bay of Bengal, hundreds of kilometers (miles) from Indonesia, where a magnitude 8.9 earthquake struck on Sunday.
The tidal wave or tsunami swelled in the Bay of Bengal and hit after the Indonesian quake. Rising sea water flooded the huts of nearly 2,500 poor fishermen living in low-lying areas of Madras, also known as Chennai. Waves felled a lighthouse in Nellore district.
Authorities said the tsunami caught residents and officials by surprise.
Officials have advised fishermen not to go to sea for two more days. "There is no guarantee that the tidal waves will not appear again," said K. Kaushalya of the National Geophysical Laboratories in Hyderabad, the capital of Andhra Pradesh.