Some 50 South Indian villagers are spread out along the sandy beach. Women clad in brightly colored saris converse in groups, while men repair fishing nets. Teenage boys playfully tackle each other.
Then, the residents of Vellakoil get some news from fellow clansmen: Dangerous weather is on the way.
A year ago, when the tsunami hit, 19 died in this village of less than 500; 14 were children. And everyone's house and belongings were washed away.
This time, they are ready.
As the storm descends, men, women and children fan out, each with a task. Some run into the Sea of Bengal to save those stranded in the water. They use rafts and life preservers made of readily available local materials, such as empty plastic water bottles and bamboo branches. Using makeshift stretchers -- blankets stretched across tied bamboo -- others carry the injured to a first-aid station.
Welcome to an emergency preparedness exercise organized by an Indian nonprofit, with support from the American Jewish World Service (AJWS).
The effort was launched about a decade ago in another part of India, after a devastating earthquake, through Swayam Shikshan Prayog (SSP), which stands for "self-learning through empowerment."
Funds contributed after last December's devastating tsunami are helping to pay for training and travel to make the program work. The idea is for villagers to help teach people from other villages, a concept central to the ideology of nonprofits funded by AJWS.
Vellakoil residents are serious about the drill. Beforehand, they proudly announce their duties -- monitoring weather systems, performing first aid, documenting damage -- to a group of visitors.
Of course, it's hard to prepare for a tsunami that strikes on a clear day and sweeps inland across 4 kilometers of land, as happened here a year ago. But the planning already has paid dividends. Even though the region and the village suffered severe flooding during recent rains, residents successfully removed themselves and their belongings out of harm's way.
This exercise begins and ends with villagers lined up along the beach, their arms outstretched as they pledge loyalty to their village and to each other.
In disaster drill, Vellakoil residents use supplies at hand -- water bottles and bamboo -- to fashion a rescue raft. Photo by Howard Blume
When they first performed the exercise about a month ago, at least one resident broke down in tears as memories resurfaced. Just two weeks before, a man who had lost two sons in the killer wave hanged himself. On this day, one woman recalls trying futilely to save two grandchildren.
For some, however, the emotions are beginning to subside. Several teenage boys wear excited smiles as they carry the "wounded" to safety.
Even psychological benefits are no small thing.
"Now we have confidence that we can escape," says Kuppamanikkam, the woman who lost two grandchildren. "Now we no longer have to fear."