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Cyclone Gaja leaves trail of destruction in Tamil Nadu; 26 people killed, over 1 lakh in relief camps

Chennai: Cyclone Gaja finally touched the shores of southern Tamil Nadu during the early hours of 16 November, near Vedaranyam in Nagapattinam district. Gaja made landfall with higher wind speed than forecast by the India Meteorological Department. Coming in at 120 kmph, as opposed to the 90-100 kmph that was anticipated, Gaja caused more damage than expected, according to government authorities.

Damaged boats on the shores of Nagapattinam. Image: Mydeen Abdul Kadar/101Reporters

Damaged boats on the shore of Nagapattinam. Image: Mydeen Abdul Kadar/101Reporters

As of this morning, over 1 lakh people from the seven high-risk districts of Thiruvarur, Thanjavur, Nagapattinam, Cuddalore, Pudhukottai, Ramanathapuram and Karaikal have been sheltered in 520 relief camps across the state. Among them are 20,000 children. Evacuation efforts have been on since Friday and were stepped up over the night as the storm continued to intensify. More than 15,000 disaster management personnel have been pressed into rescue work in these areas.

The storm has caused major damage in Thanjavur district’s Pattukottai and Adirampattinam and in Pudukkottai and Karaikal districts. The damage was particularly severe in the banana plantations and paddy fields. Pudukkottai district collector S Ganesh said that while the coastal district was prepared for the cyclone, they didn’t expect it to be as severe in that district as it was in Nagapattinam, where it made landfall. "But we immediately intensified rescue efforts during the night," he said. "The rains have just stopped and people are being sent home on Friday. Those who have lost their homes will continue to be accommodated in these relief camps. Evaluation of losses and compensation are underway.”

In Nagapattinam district, Vedaranayam and Kodiyakkarai witnessed the most destruction. Almost 50,000 homes lost EB connection and officials say that the power can only be resumed after a couple of weeks, because a majority of the EB poles have sustained damaged. Roofs of many homes and commercial establishments were damaged by the gusting winds, and even the famous Vellankanni Church has sustained damages in the cyclone. Almost all the mobile networks lost their connection in Nagapattinam district and the communication came to a halt completely. Scenes such as a family cooking on the roadside and a fisherman inspecting the wreckage of his ships are coming out of the district

As of noon, 11 people had died, including four members of a family in Pattukottai when their old brick house collapsed on them amidst the severe rain and winds. In addition to this, a seven-year-old girl was killed in Adhirampattinam, two died in Cuddalore (one each in Kurinjipadi and Virudhachalam), one in Seyyar in Thiruvannamalai, one in Sivaganga and two people in Thirvarur. A total of 26 people are said to have lost their lives due to the cyclone. On Friday, Chief Minister Edappadi Palaniswami announced a compensation of Rs 10 lakh per family to those who have died in the cyclone.

Defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman said that due to the efforts of the Coast Guard, no fishermen were reported to have died at sea off the coast of Tamil Nadu.

Homes damaged in Pudhukottai due to Cyclone Gaja. Image: Mydeen Abdul Kadar/101Reporters

Homes damaged in Pudhukottai due to Cyclone Gaja. Image: Mydeen Abdul Kadar/101Reporters

The Thanjavur district collector A Annadurai said that he has been unable to reach the affected areas because of obstruction of roads due to fallen trees. Currently across the coast, rescue work is focused on clearing these trees and making roadways accessible again. Electricity poles are being replaced and damaged mobile phone towers are being repaired. Some stray rescue operations of those trapped in buildings are also being carried out. The chief minister has instructed work to be done on a war footing to restore normalcy in these affected areas.

Revenue and disaster management minister RB Udhayakumar, speaking to reporters this morning in Chennai, said that because the wind speed was so high, damages are more than expected. Particularly banana plantations and paddy fields have been the worst affected. Many parked fishing boats, especially in Karaikal and Nagapattinam, have taken a beating. Over 5,000 trees have been uprooted. About 12,000 electrical wires along the coast have come down and have to be replaced. The precautionary action taken by the government of Tamil Nadu ensured that over 85,000 people were housed in relief centres even before the cyclone hit, he said. "The revenue and fisheries departments are currently surveying the extent of the damage and the concerned ministers have rushed to affected areas. Consultations are ongoing with the chief minister regarding further relief measures."

Damaged electricity infrastructure in Thanjavur. Image: Mydeen Abdul Kader/101Reporters

Damaged electricity infrastructure in Thanjavur. Image: Mydeen Abdul Kader/101Reporters

The Tamil Nadu chief minister, who held a press meet on Friday from his hometown in Salem, announced that he would be travelling to the affected areas on Friday to assess the impact of the cyclone. Puducherry chief minister V Narayanaswamy is currently in Karaikal supervising rescue efforts. Close to 1,200 trees were brought down by the storm in the union territory and over 5,000 people were evacuated to relief camps.

Venkatesh, who is staying in a relief camp in Vedaranyam in Nagapattinam, said that the government has taken adequate precautionary measures against the cyclone. "Since we arrived at the camp before the storm hit, we are all safe. We are not experiencing any difficulties here; we are being given food at the right times and the children are frequently being given milk and biscuits. We thank the government for their work. We have been advised to stay here until this evening and we will return home after that," he said.

Chennai meteorological department director Dr S Balachandran, speaking at 10 am on Friday about the status of Cyclone of Gaja, said, ''The cyclone had crossed the coastal area completely by 6 am. Presently Gaja is travelling through Dindigul district with a wind speed between 60-70 kmph. Over the next three hours, Gaja will continue moving west as its intensity gradually reduces. There will be no more impact of Gaja on the coastal districts but we continue to keep track of the movement of the cyclone.”

With inputs from V Dhanabalan

(The author is a Chennai-based freelance writer and a member of 101Reporters.)


Updated Date: Nov 16, 2018 18:03 PM

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