As Tamil Nadu takes stock of the damage left behind by Cyclone Gaja, the fallen trees in the state’s delta and coastal districts will remain a sour reminder of the cyclone in the months to come. Gaja, that pounded southern Tamil Nadu with winds speeds rising upto 110 kmps, has caused severe damage to acres of coconut farms, banana plantations and corn fields in the region.
Tamil Nadu Farmers’ Union President Deivasigamani tells TNM that farmers have lost 80% of their trees, some of which are 20 to 30 years old. “One farmer who had 1,100 coconut trees in his farm lost about 800. This is the scale of damage in the region. Rice crops too have been damaged but not as severely as the trees. The cyclone brought with it extreme winds. The rains were comparatively lesser and so there’s not much flooding,” he says.
Deivasigamani also tells us that the Gaja winds swept through Vedaranyam, Muthupettai, Pattukkottai, Dindigul and Periyakulam regions, wreaking havoc in its path. “In Muthupettai and Pattukkottai there’s severe damage to coconut farms. In Dindigul, it is for the plantains and corn. It’ll take at least five years for the farmers to recover from this damage,” he adds.
Farmer leader Ayyakannu, while stressing that farmers always bear the brunt of floods and winds and drought, tells us that close to 1,000 acres of plantain farms in Trichy region have been completely razed to the ground. “Vaazhai (plantain) is completely gone. Thousands of coconut, mango, jackfruit and teak trees have fallen. Cattle, houses and roads too are damaged,” he says.
Customs officer Alagappan Abdul Kareem, a native of Adirampattinam sketches a very grim post-Gaja image. "There are around 40,000 people in Adirampattinam. Of which 5,000 odd people survival is dependent on coconut farming. 90% of the coconut trees have been damaged in the gale winds. Now the people are all staring at a loss that they can't even imagine. And it would be difficult for them to find a new job itself since they have been coconut farmers for generations," he shares.
The cyclone has left 102 cattle and 633 goats dead all over Tamil Nadu. As a relief amount, the government will provide Rs 30,000 per cattle and Rs 3,000 per goat that died. The relief for fallen trees is yet to be announced.
TN Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami, while reading out the official estimate of damage has said that 1,70,454 trees have fallen and that 33,868 have been cleared so far. The government is yet to announce the relief for damaged crops and trees, the assessment for which is being done by the agricultural department.
While pointing out that the gales of winds have uprooted electric poles as well, cutting off communication and electricity in the regions, Deivasigamani tells us that it is high time the government upgraded these regions from electric poles to underground connections. “Every time there’s damage to these electric poles, the government fixes new poles. Should only the cities have underground connections? When communication is cut off, it becomes a dangerous situation.”
347 electricity transformers have been destroyed and 3,559 km of electricity transmission wires have been snapped in the cyclone, thereby cutting the power supply in the affected areas. A total of 12,532 officials from the Tamil Nadu Electricity Board have been deputed on the ground to restore power.