Cyclone Gaja leaves 40 dead, over 80,000 stranded; TN seeks Central funds

Hindustan Times, Chennai | ByMC Rajan & M Manikandan
Nov 17, 2018 11:25 PM IST

The situation after cyclone Gaja hit Tamil Nadu remains grim, with despair and anger building up over so many deaths, destruction of property and livelihoods being affected. While power supply remains cut off in affected areas, roads remain blocked, preventing relief measures and medical assistance from reaching the affected people in many places.

With the death toll rising to 40 and more than 80,000 people stranded at relief camps facing a paucity of food and drinking water and other amenities, the magnitude of the havoc caused by cyclone ‘Gaja’ in Tamil Nadu has left the state authorities reeling. Six coastal districts and three in the hinterland besides Karaikal in Puducherry have been ravaged.

A view of a damaged electric pole due to Cyclone Gaja in Thanjavur district, Tamil Nadu on Saturday, November 17, 2018. (HT Photo)(HT Photo)
A view of a damaged electric pole due to Cyclone Gaja in Thanjavur district, Tamil Nadu on Saturday, November 17, 2018. (HT Photo)(HT Photo)

Given the enormity of the calamity, the Tamil Nadu government on Saturday urged the Centre to release funds to carry out rescue and rehabilitation operations.

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The situation remains grim, with despair and anger building up over so many deaths, destruction of property and livelihoods being affected. For the successive third day, the Cauvery delta region, which faced the brunt of the cyclone, remained without power supply. As roads remain blocked due to uprooted trees, relief measures and medical assistance could not reach the affected people in many places.

Chief minister Edappadi K Palaniswami has said that he will visit the cyclone-affected areas on Sunday. But, leader of the opposition MK Stalin has already landed in Nagapattinam and is touring the worst-hit district to meet the people.

The chief minister, who is in Salem for the past couple of days, said the government is undertaking the relief works on a war footing. “The government is taking every effort to remove the trees that have fallen on the roads. Ministers are on the job in the affected areas to restore normal life,” he told the media.

Despite the elaborate preparations by the administration and the Disaster Management Agency, cyclone Gaja has taken a heavy toll. Locals have not imagined that their livelihood would be wiped out in a span of few hours by the ferocious gale winds which slapped the coast at 120 kmph from Thursday midnight to early morning of Friday.

Nagapattinam is witnessing a calamity of this proportion after the December 2004 tsunami. Then, despite the loss of lives, the 16th century Vailankannai Basilica remained unscathed. But, this time, the shrine complex has suffered damages.

In the aftermath of the cyclone, thousands have been rendered homeless.

The government has put the toll at 40, which included 16 women and three children. The damage to standing crops, coconut trees and other long term crops is yet to be assessed.

According to the State Disaster Management Agency, 1.273 lakh trees have been uprooted and over 25,000 houses severely damaged in the cyclone. Over 30,000 electric poles have been uprooted and around 450 electricity sub-stations damaged severely, crippling power supply in the entire region. The electricity department has assured to restore power supply in the next 72 hours. But, given the situation on the ground, it would require men and material in huge numbers to carry out the works.

“At least 20,000 workers are on job to restore power,” said a top official of the department.

AIADMK leader and Lok Sabha Deputy Speaker M Thambidurai has appealed to the Centre to release funds for carrying out relief and restoration works. “The union government should immediately release funds so that the state government could speed up the rescue and relief operations,” he told the media.

Though the government has opened around 500 temporary camps in the affected districts, people are alleging that food supply is woefully inadequate. Sporadic protests are being held in many places demanding early and timely assistance.

Around 200 people from Vizhundhamavadi village near Nagapattinam have resorted to a road blockade protesting lack of food supply in the relief camps.

S Santhi, who lost her hut and cattle, said her village has been completely devastated by cyclone and for them to recover it would take years. “Now, what we need is proper food and clothes. We are unable to survive in the camps without food. Most of our children are tired and have fainted. We cannot even get milk for them,” she told HT with tears in her eyes.

“It is hard to get a plate of sambar rice,” lamented 70-year-old Somu Elango, a farmer from Thalainayar.

“Over 800 people are staying in the camp at Thalainayar and it is not easy to get the food. Further, with just two toilets, people especially woman are finding it difficult to to use them. We are not able to get drinking water. Children are crying for milk,” he said about the situation in the camp.

However, chief minister Palaniswami has denied any shortage in either food supply or in amenities. “There is adequate supply of provisions and food is supplied properly,” he said.

Revenue minister RB Udhayakumar, who is monitoring relief works in Nagapattinam district, said efforts are made to remove the shortcomings.

“As the cyclone has crippled vehicular traffic, we face a hardship in bringing materials and provisions. However, we are providing food to each and every one in the camp,” he said.

Meanwhile, due to the huge demand for food and provisions, prices have skyrocketed in the markets.

According to locals of Adhirampattinam in Thanjavur district and those in Pudukkottai, milk is being sold for 100 per litre.

“Usually, we buy milk for just 30. For the last two days, we are purchasing it for Rs.300. The government should deploy dairy development department officials to ensure hassle-free milk supply,” S Arangulavan of Pudukkottai told Hindustan Times.

Health minister C Vijayabhaskar, a native of Pudukottai said the district has not faced such a monstrous cyclone since 1960. “In the last half a century, we have not seen such a ferocious cyclonic storm,” he said and appealed to the people to assist the rescue operations.

Farmers who had a breather last year after 2016 drought are a worried lot as the cyclone has hit the samba crops awaiting harvest, coconut trees and banana plantations in Nagapattinam, Tiruvarur, Thanjavur, Pudukkottai and Trichy districts.

Kodiyakkarai, a coastal destination with Point Calimere wildlife and birds’ sanctuary, has faced the wrath of the cyclone fury. Unaware of the disaster in waiting, deer, wild boars, jackals, and horses which roamed around, died under the onslaught of Gaja. Over 100 carcasses of animals were washed ashore in Karaikal beach of Puducherry on Saturday morning.

Senior Congress leader P Chidambaram has urged the Union Home Ministry to send a team to assess the loss in the delta districts. “I have requested the Home Minister through the home secretary to depute a team of two officers immediately to inspect in person the extent of damage caused by Cyclone Gaja,” Chidambaram said in a tweet.

Visiting the affected areas and extending relief materials to people, DMK president Stalin said: “After Thane, Vardah, and Ockhi, Gaja has wrecked most of the districts in the state. It is very hard to accept that so many lives have been lost.”

Deputy CM O Panneerselvam visited Kodaikanal, which was also badly hit by the cyclone and supervised the relief works being carried out in the hill resort. Traffic on the ghat road, which remained suspended due to landslides has been resumed.

Meanwhile, the IMD’s Chennai regional office has alerted about another low-pressure area near the Andamans. “The low pressure is moving in the west direction. So it would bring rainfall in TN between November 19 and 21,” Met department officials told the media.

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