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Managing Disasters: Cyclonic Chaos

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Tamil Nadu has always been a victim of natural calamities such as cyclones, tsunamis and floods in some years and severe drought in others. According to the National Institute of Disaster Management, 13 districts of Tamil Nadu are vulnerable to high or very high cyclonic impact and flooding. There are at least seven districts here that are regularly impacted by drought conditions. This means that over 62 percent of 32 districts in Tamil Nadu are disaster-prone.

Latest in the list of disasters to strike Tamil Nadu is Cyclone Gaja. In the early hours of November 16, this cyclonic storm crossed the state and Puducherry coast between Nagapattinam and Pamban with a wind speed of up to 130 kmph. Cyclone Gaja caused massive destruction across the state with 63 deaths, and devastated 12 districts—Cuddalore, Karaikal, Nagpattinam, Thanjavur, Tiruvarur, Pudukottai, Ramanthapuram, Sivagangai, Trichy, Dindugal, Karur and Theni. Many are in the fertile Cauvery delta.

Cyclone Gaja’s economic impact in Tamil Nadu will be massive. Houses have collapsed, farms have been ruined, water sources contaminated and electricity supply disrupted. Many areas remain inaccessible because fallen trees have blocked roads.

In its report to the centre, Tamil Nadu has estimated that the number of people rendered homeless is 3.7 lakh and houses destroyed 3.4 lakh. The cyclone has crippled agriculture and livelihoods in a fertile region, felling thousands of productive trees and killing livestock. Between 60-80 percent of the coconut trees in the region have fallen, hobbling Tamil Nadu’s farmers who contribute a quarter of India’s coconuts with the highest unit yield. Unlike other crops, bringing coconut plantations back to life will actually take years.

The cyclone has crippled the lives of people forever. While the poor are left with nothing, the middle class and the rich have become poorer. Villages and towns look like sets of a Hollywood war film. Only concrete structures have survived; huts and tiled houses are beyond repair. Electric posts and cell phone towers lie twisted. The sea water has spoilt groundwater and the delta region has been left without drinking water. It is now dependent on water tankers.

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