For most people at Kannithoppu village near Velankanni in Nagapattinam district, Cyclone Gaja came as a surprise. Not because of lack of information but because they didn't believe what they heard or saw.
"Every Time people said that a rain or a cyclone is coming, it has never come. So this time also, I thought the same and stayed put in my house," says S Valarmathi.
Cyclone Gaja not only made landfall between Nagapattinam and Vedaranyam early Friday morning but it wreaked damage as it crossed the coast of Tamil Nadu.
While Nagapattinam district has been declared by the state government as the worst-hit, the damage is for all to see in the village of Kannithoppu. Gale winds stripped away the roof of several homes, while some structures crumbled in the heavy rains. Uprooted trees also caused damage to several properties.
48-year-old Valarmathi married a man from Kannithoppu 30 years ago. After her husband died a few years ago, she continued to live alone in the house that her husband built for her. "My husband built this house for me and we got a small piece of agricultural land from my father-in-law. So the income that I get from the crops I manage to cultivate there helps me survive," she adds.
Like Valarmathi, there are about 100 families in this village. And for many in Kannithoppu, Cyclone Gaja is the first real experience of a cyclonic storm in three decades.
"The last time a cyclone did so much damage here was in 1977 when my son was merely 9 days old," says Thanalatchumi.
Thanalatchumi and her husband live with their son Ramesh's family in Kannithoppu. Ramesh owns a fireworks wholesale shop -- Pamani GKR traders-- in the village and had recently renovated his shop. Born and brought up in Kannithoppu, he is also one of those who refused to believe official warnings that a cyclone might hit the region.
"I lost around Rs 2.5 lakh because of the cyclone, in addition to the house. Since my house had a roof made of China tiles, they flew away in the gale winds. My house ended up getting waterlogged due to the rain," he rues.
He also adds that if he had an inkling of just how strong the cyclone would be, he would have at least tried and saved the 14 newly-installed CCTV cameras in his shop.
"I don't know how much it will cost to bring my house back to a liveable condition now. We had vans with speakers and thandora (men with drums making announcements) informing us about the cyclone. But we didn't take it seriously since predictions go wrong all the time. I am thankful that my family and I went to stay at an uncle's place in Nagapattinam last night. We left at 8 pm yesterday and came back at 6 this morning. I am just thankful for that now," he adds with a wry smile.
Most houses in the village are partially or completely damaged by the gale winds of cyclone Gaja. For all those who have lost their life's earnings to Gaja, the only question that remains is how to get back on their feet.
53-year-old Kanagavalli, whose son is bedridden, breaks down as she says she had no option but to stay in Kannithoppu on Thursday when the cyclone hit.
"I moved to Kannithoppu after my wedding 40 years ago. Since then I haven't gone anywhere. My son who is sick is now is lying down in a pool of water dumped on us by the cyclone. I am at a loss as to what I will focus on now -- my son's medical treatment or reconstructing my house," she laments.