Tamil Nadu, Puducherry brace as cyclone Nivar nears
With cyclone Nivar expected to make a landfall on eastern coast of Tamil Nadu on Wednesday, heavy rains lashed several parts of the state including Chennai on Tuesday. As a precautionary measure, the state government has declared a public holiday on Wednesday.
The cyclone is expected to make a landfall between Mamallapuram and Karaikal on November 25 late evening with a wind speed of up to 145 kmph, according to Indian Meteorological Department.
The cyclonic storm over southwest Bay of Bengal moved westwards with a speed of 07 kmph on Tuesday afternoon over southwest Bay of Bengal about 370 km eastsoutheast of Puducherry and 420 km south-southeast of Chennai. It is likely to intensify further into a severe cyclonic storm during next 12 hours and into a very severe cyclonic storm during subsequent 12 hours according to IMD’s Tuesday bulletin.
IMD scientists however said that it was not possible to confirm the exact time and location of landfall until Wednesday morning when models will have a clearer picture. “We can say it could cross the coast anytime between 6 to 8 pm,” said Sunitha Devi, in charge of cyclones at IMD. A red category warning for extremely heavy rain has been sounded in coastal and north interior Tamil Nadu, Puducherry and Karaikal on November 25 and for Rayalseema on November 26. “The cyclone has gradually intensified and wind speed has increased so the warnings have changed,” said K Sathi Devi, head, national weather forecasting centre. With 43,409 first responders, several rescue teams and personnel including the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) and the coast guard have been deployed. “We have made our moves to prepare for the cyclone. We have to leave it to nature now and respond,” said Phanindra Reddy, principal secretary and commissioner, state’s disaster management and mitigation department.
Though Tamil Nadu has learnt lessons from its previous cyclones- Gaja in 2018 and Vardah in 2016 to prepare for the heavy rains and wind, this year the state faces an additional challenge of the Covid-19 pandemic. This time, the cyclone relief centers have been doubled to 8,813 to accommodate 2.5 lakh people so as to ensure social distancing. “We didn’t want the relief camps to end up becoming super spreaders,” Reddy said, adding that people will be screened for Covid symptoms at the camps. Till Tuesday evening, less than 1,000 people had moved there but authorities are expected a bigger crowd on Wednesday when the cyclone approaches the coast.
Chief minister Edappadi K Palaniswami announced a public holiday on Wednesday urging people to remain indoors. Essential services will continue to operate. “We have taken all precautions so that people aren’t affected due to the cyclone. There is no need to panic,” he said, after inspecting an emergency control room in Chennai. Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke to Palaniswami and Puducherry chief minister V Narayanaswamy on Tuesday and assured them of assistance from the Centre.
In Chennai, the officials asked people not to panic as water levels rose in the Chembarambakkam reservoir. The government has issued orders to release surplus water from Chembarambakkam if it exceeds its storage capacity. Overflow from Chembarambakkam had caused the 2015 devastating Chennai floods. “The situation is under control,” said Greater Chennai Corporation commissioner, G Prakash. The city has opened 80 relief camps with another 80 on stand-by. Civic workers in Chennai were pressed into clearing water-logged roads as the city received heavy rains from Monday night.
However, authorities were more concerned of the impact of winds which could uproot trees and blow away tin sheets and roof which could be fatal if people stay outdoors. District administrations are running control rooms with emergency numbers for the public to call. The coast guard has stationed 15 disaster management teams while two helicopters are on standby. Four off-shore patrol vehicles will be available to assist fishermen and in Chennai there are five flood relief teams and one diving team. Southern railways have cancelled 24 trains including trains connecting Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh. Suburban train services have also been suspended from Wednesday until further orders.
Meanwhile, section 144 has been imposed in Puducherry. The administration has also opened a 24x7 control room coordinating with various teams and has set up 96 relief camps. “When there is a need they will be moved, we don’t want to unnecessarily create a hotspot,” said Puducherry collector T Arun, who was confident with their mitigation efforts. “Our only concern is people venturing out which is why we have prohibited movement and we have asked families to stock up,” said Arun.
With inputs from Jayshree Nandi
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