As the alarm blared, a bunch of young men in Rasapettai, Cuddalore, scrambled to inform the villagers about the cyclone. This exercise was a part of the drill set up by the district administration in coordination with the fisherfolk in the village. Rasapettai, located near the Bay of Bengal, is a small fishing hamlet.
With around 600 families and more than 3,500 people, Rasapettai is in full swing preparing to face cyclone Gaja. "This was a trial alarm. The district level officer here had informed us in advance that a trial alarm will go off at this time. This was to inform the people how a real alarm sounds," says Arun Kumar, a resident of the village.
Arun Kumar and his friends are part of the team of first responders identified by the district administration. Together, they are in charge of securing people in Rasapettai and the nearby village Kudikadu.
These men were identified after the 2015 floods, which wreaked havoc across Rasapettai.
“After the floods, the village panchayat took our names and contact numbers and sent it to the district office. They put us in a team and informed us what to do during a cyclone," says Kalaichelvan, who is also part of the team.
"Cyclone Thane caught us unaware. We weren't this informed back then. This time, we are better prepared and are keeping track of the cyclone on an hourly basis," adds Manigandan, another team member.
"Once we get the next alarm on the cyclone, we will take our two-wheelers and inform every family in our village to shift to the evacuation shelter," he says.
This time around, the sub-inspector of Devanampattinam will pass on the instructions and updates about the cyclone to the people in Rasapettai.
As part of their preparation for cyclone Gaja, Arun also adds that they have been instructed by the police to first secure their fishing equipment early on. The team has secured their boats and moved it further inland. They also take turns to inform families in their village about where to go when the cyclone approaches the coast.
"The sea is slowly getting rough. This morning, it was like a river, peaceful and devoid of any signs. Now, it is changing," says Arun Kumar, as drops of rain start to fall.
In Rasapettai, a cyclone shelter and a nearby school have been allotted as a temporary evacuation centre. According to the locals, both these buildings were cleaned on Wednesday and are ready for the villagers to move in, in case of emergency.
"The cyclone shelter and the school building are both located on a higher ground level and are safe in case of water-logging. And all villagers are aware of these buildings, which are easily accessible from the main road," adds Arun. He also states that the next update is expected from officers around 3 pm on Thursday.
The 2011 Thane cyclone was devastating for the villagers in Rasapettai. They lost their homes to the raging winds and their boats were all also destroyed. The 2015 floods too caused widespread flooding. A river flowing adjacent to the village and a sea roaring at its backyard have placed Rasapettai and its villagers on toes since the announcement of cyclone started pouring in. They have been updating themselves about the progress of the cyclone through television channels. In the last two days, a few district-level officers have been visiting the village and giving them safety instructions.