As the delta districts in Tamil Nadu are grappling with the effects of cyclone Gaja, the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) has issued a forecast of heavy rains till Wednesday in the region.
In a weather bulletin released on Monday morning, the IMD stated that the depression in the Bay of Bengal will intensify into a deep depression and move towards the coast of Tamil Nadu by Wednesday, bringing heavy to very heavy rains in the delta districts, namely Thanjavur, Tiruvarur, Nagapattinam, Pudukottai, Cuddalore, Sivagangai and Ramanathapuram.
Cyclone Gaja made its landfall in Tamil Nadu in the early hours of November 16 with wind speeds touching 120 kms per hour. The gale winds of the cyclone caused extensive damage in the coastal and delta districts in the state. The winds uprooted electricity poles, disrupted telephone lines and mobile connectivity in the region, effectively plunging the region into darkness and isolation. Though relief works are being carried out in the districts, there are areas where people are still waiting for basic necessities like food and water.
In such situation, how well are the districts prepared to face another spell of rains? TNM spoke to the officers in the district administration of five districts about the preparation in place to face the rains.
Situated on the Coromandel coast, Cuddalore was preparing to face the worst as the news of cyclone Gaja broke. Fresh with memories of cyclone Thane in 2011 and the floods of 2015, the people of Cuddalore and the district administration made detailed plans in preparation of the cyclone.
Although cyclone Gaja did not make a landfall in the district, there are areas which were affected by its impact. Disruption of electricity was one of the major effects of the cyclone in the district.
Cuddalore collector Anbuselvan told TNM that the teams formed prior to cyclone Gaja are for the entire season, and not just to tackle Gaja. "Those 19 teams headed by deputy collector are in place for the entire monsoon season and will oversee relief works whenever there is a bad situation due to rains or cyclone. After Gaja, they are now in standby mode and if the rains today and tomorrow result in grave situation in the district, they will swing into action immediately and address it," he said.
He also stated that Cuddalore suffered minimal damages due to Gaja and hence normal life was restored within a day. "Other districts are affected badly and we will send relief materials and the machines like JCB, power-saws in our possession to those districts as and when we get the requests. As of now, there are no relief work-in-progress in Cuddalore post cyclone Gaja," he said.
Nagapattinam is one of the districts that was directly hit when the cyclone made landfall. Cyclone Gaja crossed the coast near Vedaranyam in Nagapattinam district, razing everything in its way to ground. Uprooted electrical transformers, poles, trees and lack of mobile connectivity displayed a grim picture of the natural disaster. Many parts of the district are still cut off from the centre of the district due to connectivity issues.
According to the state government, the relief works are in full swing in the district with special teams formed to expedite the process.
Meanwhile, people in places like Thalainyayiru and Keelaiyur expressed their anger by taking to the road to protest. They alleged that the district administration is not paying sufficient attention to their localities, which were badly affected in the cyclone. Some people also slammed the officers for not visiting their areas to assess the damage caused by the winds.
A tahsildar from Nagapattinam district told TNM that the existing set up that was put in place to deal with cyclone will apply for rains as well. "The relief centres, the emergency numbers etc., will function just like how it was during cyclone Gaja. The forecast for heavy rains in the next three days is definitely worrisome since the relief works are going on. Since many villages are remote and the communication lines are totally cut. It is already taking a lot of time for the rehabilitation measures to reach there," he said.
He also added that if rains lash the district again, it will definitely bring the district on its knees. "Even now, a drizzle is enough to slow down the work. I hope it doesn't rain," he added.
Pudukottai district was affected badly as the cyclone moved to interior Tamil Nadu. Strong winds and rains lashed the district on November 16, bringing parts of the district to a standstill. Days after the cyclone, the affected areas are still in the dark with no electricity. People took to the streets to register their anger at not being given food and drinking water.
On Saturday night, around 500 persons protested against the perceived underestimation of the disaster by the government and set five government vehicles ablaze. The police then took around 70 protestors into custody for the violence.
Speaking to TNM on the preparedness of the district administration to tackle another possible situation due to the predicted rains, Pudukottai RDO said that taluk level officers have been given special instructions to move those in the low-lying areas to higher areas if the place becomes flooded in the rain. "We have also made arrangements to shelter those who are evacuated now in anticipation of heavy rains. The relief work is going on in full pace in the district. A rain now will definitely slow down the speed in which the work is going on," he added.
Probably one of the worst-affected areas in the cyclone, Thanjavur lost acres of coconut farms to the gale winds, which uprooted the trees. People of Thanjavur lost their livelihood and are staring at a situation where they have no work and income in the coming days to support themselves and their families.
Protests erupted in some villages with the people holding road rokos as ministers visited the affected areas. The people demanded that their areas were neglected and that they were not provided with drinking water since the cyclone struck.
Speaking to TNM, the Tahsildar of Orathanadu in Thanjavur district said that the district administration is doing its best for the people after the cyclone. "We have been working tirelessly to bring the town back to normal after cyclone Gaja hit the area. Waterlogging is not an issue in our area due to the terrain. Hence we are not afraid of the rains," he said.
When asked about the work getting obstructed by the heavy rains, he denied the possibility of it. "It is rain and not a cyclone. So we have no worry of the relief work getting suspended since the workers who are on the ground are used to working in the rain. So I don't think the rehabilitation work in the district will get affected even if heavy rains lash the place," he added.
Cyclone Gaja hit Tiruvarur on November 16, wreaking havoc in some taluks in the district. With electricity being cut off and mobile connectivity to reduced to zero, the people in these areas have been grappling with lack of sufficient food and clean water to drink. While the affected region is slowly getting back on its feet, the district administration is bracing up for the worst after hearing about the possibility of heavy rains till Wednesday.
A senior official in the Tiruvarur district administration told TNM that alerts have been given to all officers in the district for the rains forecast by IMD till Wednesday. "We have 37 teams of officers at firka levels. They will be on constant rounds in the district and will take appropriate measures to ensure safety and security of the people," he said.
He also added that relief measures in progress in the district are bound to get affected if the rains are heavy and continuous.