Cyclone Gaja
Kondur, one of the worst hit villages in Cuddalore after Cyclone Thane in 2011 and 2015 floods, has been tagged as very highly vulnerable for Cyclone Gaja.

For Selvi, the word cyclone makes her shiver, bringing alive memories from seven years ago. Cyclone Thane, declared a very severe cyclonic storm by the Met Department, hit the coast of Tamil Nadu in December 2011, killing at least 28 people in Cuddalore and leaving behind a trail of destruction. The 2011 cyclone rendered Selvi homeless, with her kutcha house in Kondur village in Cuddalore getting blown away by gale winds.

“We were deep asleep when my brother called and told me to get out of the house immediately. It was then that it dawned on me that the roof was unstable and swaying along with the furious winds that came with the cyclone,” Selvi, a domestic worker recalls.

Although several years have passed, with Cuddalore district even witnessing a flood in 2015, the word cyclone still scares her.

Kondur in Cuddalore district has now been identified as one of the 'Very highly vulnerable areas' for Cyclone Gaja by the Cuddalore district administration. The village was one of the worst-hit areas during Cyclone Thane and during the 2015 floods, said zonal officer-in-charge.

"During 2015 floods, Kondur saw some of the worst water-logging in the town. Hence based on that, this time we classified it into the very highly vulnerable category despite having done infrastructure development works in the area after floods," Jothi Velu, the Zonal officer tells TNM. He also adds that volunteers have been instructed to pass on information regarding the cyclone and shelters to the people.

Several residents in Kondur village, however, appear to be in the dark about the impending cyclone.

"As of now, we have not received even a single piece of information about the cyclone from official sources. All that we know now is from TV and mobile phones," says Kalaimadhi. She adds that though Cyclone Thane had intense winds, it was the 2015 floods that did most of the damage to the people living in Kondur. 

"This area is a low-lying area. Water flowed here from all the surrounding areas. We bore the brunt when water flowed from nearby hillocks. We were totally cut off from the main road and had to be rescued by boat," she adds.

Her husband Ravichandran agrees that Kondur's biggest problem is waterlogging. "If it rains heavily for a few hours at a stretch, we will be stuck here for sure," he says.

Maayavan, the ex-president of the Kondur village panchayat partially agrees to the government’s claim that developmental works were carried out following the 2015 floods. However, he says there has been no improvement in the quality of life for people in the village.

"There are about 400 families and 2000 people under the panchayat. Not much has been done after the floods if you ask me. Of course, a few people who lost their houses made of palm leaves were given pucca buildings or money to construct one, but that alone is not enough. Efforts must be made to clear the garbage and stormwater drains in the village for the rainwater to flow, right?" he asks.

Jayabal, whose house saw water-logging of up to 5 feet during the 2015 floods says that lack of local representatives has made Kondur grapple for attention from the district administration. "Since the local body elections are pending, we don't have a panchayat president now. So if we have any problem in the area, now we have to approach the clerk or the Block Development Officer who are not really reachable or approachable," he rues. He adds that in 2015 it was because they had a panchayat president that they all received boats for evacuation in a matter of hours. "If he wasn't there and if the situation back then was anything like now, I can't imagine when we would have gotten out of this place with water everywhere," he declares.

The village still has around 150 families living in kutcha houses, and are most vulnerable in a cyclone. These families are totally dependent on evacuation shelters in times of such natural calamities and are now left with a huge decision to make. They exchange blank looks when asked about the nearest relief or evacuation shelters that they have to depend on in case of emergency.

"I don't know. We have no idea as to the relief centres this time. Nobody has given us any clue either. My employer only told me about her school that is a relief centre. So may be I will go there. Last time we had a marriage hall that was on the main road to stay till water receded. That is also an option. Let me see," laments Selvi.