After this visit, I did not look back. I started field rounds. And reviewed these sort of complaints coming to me daily in the Open House that I was conducting, offering two hours for people to walk in and state their problems.
It is this and the field rounds which made me aware of stories of the Thane Cyclone which hugely damaged Pondicherry in 2011-2012 and last year's floods which too were a horrible memory. Even the Raj Nivas building suffered serious damage. The then Lieutenant Governor had to relocate.
I resolved that we may not be able to prevent a cyclone, or heavy rains, but we can all be prepared to mitigate their effects.
And then started the Disaster Management plan of action which went beyond paper, to real field work. This time we were fully ready to deal with Cyclone Vardah - just as Chennai was. But thankfully, Pondicherry was spared.
But let me share with you the story of the unpreparedness for the horrid Thane Cyclone which hit the Union Territory on 30 December, 2012. The entire New Year bookings and celebrations were blown away in the gales of winds and heavy rainfall. It brought a catastrophic damage to the infrastructure of the region. It caught the government of the day completely unprepared, due to which damages were very high.
Based on documented assessment, 86,439 houses were reported fully/severely damaged, causing a loss of Rs 921.67 crores which had to be paid to affected families. On the agriculture front, 17,012 hectares of paddy, groundnut, sugarcane, tapioca, banana, cashew and more were damaged.
On animal husbandry front, 256 domestic animals (Mitch cattle and others) and 66,468 poultry birds were dead; the estimated loss was Rs 91.89 lakhs. Similarly, in the power sector, damage and losses were to the tune of Rs 52.27 crores.
Other major damaged infrastructure was in the areas of roads, bridges, embankments, schools, tourism, industries, ports, forest, public buildings.
These cyclones are now going to be a fact of life, it appears. We need to be not taken by surprise anymore, we must know what to do, and be prepared for.
Here is a list of basics prepared with real-time experience from Municipal Commissioner MS Ramesh of Oulgaret Municipality of Puducherry who dealt with the Thane Cyclone. These should be used in community education in coastal areas which are vulnerable to cyclones.
Before the cyclone season
1. Check your house, secure loose tiles, and repair doors and windows.
2. Remove dead branches or dying trees close to the house; anchor removable objects such as lumber piles, loose tin sheets, loose bricks, garbage cans, sign-boards etc. which can be tossed around in strong winds
3. Keep some wooden boards ready so that glass windows can be reinforced if needed
4. Keep a hurricane lantern filled with kerosene, battery-operated torches and enough dry cells within easy reach
5. Demolish condemned buildings
6. Keep some extra batteries for transistors
7. Keep some dry non-perishable food ready for use in emergency
The actions that need to be taken in the event of a cyclone threat can be broadly be divided into:
1. Immediately before the cyclone season
2. When cyclone alerts and warnings are communicated
3. When evacuations are advised
4. When the cyclone has crossed the coast
When the cyclone starts
1. Listen to the FM and Radio stations which give weather warnings
2. Keep monitoring the warnings. This will help you prepare for a cyclone emergency
3. Pass on the information to others
4. Ignore rumours and do not spread them, this will help to avoid panic situations. Believe in the official information
5. When a cyclone alert is on for your area, continue normal working but stay alert to the radio warnings.
6. Stay alert for the next 24 hours as a cyclone alert means that the danger is within 24 hours.
When your area is under cyclone
1. Leave early before your route to high ground or shelter gets flooded. Do not delay and run the risk of being marooned.
2. If your house is securely built on high ground, take shelter in the safe part of the house. However, if asked to evacuate do not hesitate to leave the place.
3. Board up glass windows or put storm shutters in place
4. Provide strong suitable support for outside doors
5. If you do not have wooden boards handy, paste paper strips on glasses to prevent splinters. However, this may not avoid breaking windows
6. Get extra food, which can be eaten without cooking. Store extra drinking water in suitably covered vessels
7. If you have to evacuate the house, move your valuable articles to upper floors to minimize flood damage
8. Ensure that your hurricane lantern, torches or other emergency lights are in working condition and keep them handy
9. Small and loose things, which can fly in strong winds, should be stored safely in a room
10. Be sure that a window and door can be opened only on the side opposite to the one facing the wind
11. Make provisions for children and adults requiring special diet
12. If the centre of the cyclone is passing directly over your area, there will be a lull in the wind and rain, lasting for half an hour or so. During this time, do not go out, because immediately after that, very strong winds will blow from the opposite direction
13. Remain calm
When evacuation is instructed
1. Pack essentials for yourself and your family to last a few days. These should include medicines, special food for babies and children or elders.
2. Head for the proper shelter or evacuation points indicated for your area. Do not worry about your property.
3. At the shelter, follow instructions of the person in charge.
4. Remain in the shelter until you are informed it is safe to leave.
1. You must get inoculated against diseases immediately
2. Strictly avoid any loose and dangling wires from lamp posts.
3. If you have to drive, please drive carefully
4. Clear debris from your premises immediately
5. Report the correct losses to appropriate authorities
Recover and build for officials
After "All Clear" is issued by the administration, important to check on:
1. Whether it is safe to use the roads
2. Whether power lines are safe
3. Whether transport arrangements are approved by authorities
4. Whether pure drinking water is available
5. Whether sewage lines are working
6. Whether there is a danger of any epidemic spread in the area
First-aid kit and essential medicines
Important papers (cash, property documents, ration card, Voter ID card, Aadhar card, etc.)
Emergency food (dry items) and water (packed and sealed)
Candles and matches in a waterproof container
Chlorine tablets or powdered water purifiers
Thick ropes and cords
With useful inputs from MS Ramesh, Municipal Commissioner, Oulgaret, municipality. And a report submitted by Mr PR Meena, then Relief and Rehabilitation Commissioner.
(Kiran Bedi is Lieutenant Governor, Puducherry. She is the first woman to have joined officer ranks of Indian Police Service. Recipient of Magsaysay Award (1994) for police and prison reforms, she has also worked as a UN police advisor. A tennis champion, she earned a PhD from IIT Delhi and is a Nehru Fellow. She's founded many NGOs and is the author of several books.)
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