Cyclone Tauktae has caused widespread damage in Kerala, destroying houses in vulnerable areas along the coast, causing traffic disruptions, throwing power supply in disarray, and inundating places on the banks of rivers.
A red alert has been declared in eight districts as the cyclonic formation in the Arabian Sea is expected to bring more rains and greater fury by the rising waves in the sea in the hours to follow.
Sea erosion is ravaging the coastal areas, forcing evacuation of hundreds of families in each of the affected districts. Disaster relief workers have been widely deployed to organise relief and rescue operations.
Most places in the state received more than 200mm rainfall, raising water levels in various reservoirs. Most small dams have raised their shutters to release excess water so that the water levels are brought down to manageable limits so that situations similar to the 2018 deluge are avoided.
The 2018 floods, which had devastated the state, causing loss of property and public assets to the extent not seen in a 100 years, were blamed on the failure of the authorities to open the shutters of major dams to release the dangerously rising water in time.
The Central Water Commission has sounded a flooding alert across the state and people staying along the major rivers have been advised to exercise caution and if required to move to safety.
The relief operations have been somewhat hampered by a reluctance by the affected people to move to camps for fear of Covid infection as many prefer to go and stay with their relatives.
The Covid situation, barely under control despite strict enforcement of a statewide lockdown, has made the task of evacuation and relocation all the more difficult as Covid patients, followed by those in quarantine and observation, to special camps.
The need to strictly follow the Covid protocols has also tied the hands of rescue workers as crowding has to be avoided at relief camps. Still struggling to control the high positivity rate, the government announced the enforcement of triple lockdown in 4 districts, — Thiruvananthapuram, Ernakulam, Thrissur and Malappuram. The triple lockdown means the borders of the affected districts would be sealed and interstate travel will be an exception. Bakeries and provisions stores will open on alternate days while banks will operate twice a week.
The authorities have provided for geo-fencing and the deployment of drones to monitor the situation and violations are to be dealt with sternly. Quarantine violations will invite severe punishment and a contingent of 10,000 police personnel has been deployed to enforce the provisions of triple lockdown.
With monsoon expected to arrive ahead of time, the outbreak of dengue and similar virus infections has created additional headache for the health workers. The health authorities have launched pre-monsoon preparations to deal with the situation, including fogging and cleaning of households and neighbourhoods to control mosquitos.
Tamil Nadu gears up for storm
Tamil Nadu is prepared to face any likely impact of cyclone Tauktae, which is predicted to cross the Gujarat coast on May 18 but might bring heavy rainfall in parts of the southern state.
Four teams of the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) have been positioned in Madurai, Coimbatore and the Nilgiris districts. Besides, the State Disaster Response Force (SDRF) has also been deployed in neighbouring districts.
A Defence spokesperson said the Indian Coast Guard has also given weather advisory to fishermen and merchant mariners in all regional languages.
“Indian Coast Guard ship Vajra deployed from Thoothukudi (in south Tamil Nadu) has been reaching out to fishing boats and Merchant Mariners are relaying them IMD weather warnings on VHF and urging them to return to the shore as soon as possible or take shelter in nearest port / harbour,” the spokesperson said.
On Saturday, Chief Minister MK Stalin chaired a meeting of senior officials in Chennai to review the precautionary measures to be taken in the southern districts, following the formation of the weather system over the Arabian Sea, which has transformed into cyclone Tauktae.
According to an official release, Stalin instructed the authorities to undertake precautionary measures in districts, where severe rainfall has been forecast. He asked officials to ensure the safety of fishermen in Kanyakumari.
As many as 244 fishing boats that had ventured into the high seas and 162 of them have returned. Stalin instructed officials to ensure the safe return of the remaining boats and fishermen.
Districts such as the Nilgiris where landslides are often reported have been alerted to take safety measures. Arrangements are being made to keep relief camps ready. The Chief Minister instructed officials to keep a check on the water levels in storage points in these districts.
Airports on high alert
The government on Saturday put all airports in southern and western regions on alert, directing the concerned officials to take all precautions and plan their preparedness.
IN Murthy, member (operations) of the Airports Authority of India, reviewed the preparedness through video conference with the senior managers of the airports from the corporate headquarters in Delhi.
Keeping safety in mind and to minimise damage to infrastructure, airports were advised to plan as per the SoPs and guidelines. To safeguard the airport infrastructures, precautionary measures as per check lists for pre-cyclone and post-cyclone are being ensured by concerned airports, the AAI said in a press note.
Operation of scheduled flights at Agatti Airport in Lakshadweep were suspended due to heavy rain till Sunday 10 am. The airport will be made operational after the cyclone passes the area. AAI senior management is consistently monitoring the situation at the other airports and so far, nothing adverse is reported and all operations are normal, it said.
Preparing for the cyclone, the Indian Air Force has kept 16 transport aircraft and 18 helicopters on operation readiness. Defence ministry said 1 IL-76 aircraft airlifted 127 men and 11 tonnes of cargo from Bhatinda to Jamnagar, while a C-130 aircraft airlifted 25 personnel and 12.3 tonnes cargo from Bhatinda to Rajkot and 2 C-130 aircraft airlifted 126 personnel and 14 tonnes cargo from Bhubaneswar to Jamnagar.
The IMD issued weather forecast about pre-cyclone watch for south Gujarat and Diu coasts (depression over Lakshadweep area). As per the forecast, it is very likely to intensify into a cyclonic storm during the next 24 hours and intensify further. It is very likely to move north-northwestwards and reach near Gujarat coast by May 18 morning. Warning has been issued for Lakshadweep Islands, Kerala, Tamil Nadu (ghat districts) and Karnataka (coastal and adjoining ghat districts).
The Goa govt, too, took steps in view of the cyclone.
PM Modi: Ensure safe evacuation
PM Modi on Saturday reviewed the preparedness of states, central ministries and agencies concerned to deal with the situation arising out of cyclone Tauktae and asked them to take every possible measure to ensure that people are safely evacuated. He called for ensuring maintenance of all essential services such as power, telecommunications, health and drinking and their immediate restoration in the event of damages caused to them, a statement said. At the high-level meeting which was attended by Home Minister Amit Shah and top officials concerned, Modi directed them to ensure special preparedness on Covid management in hospitals, vaccine cold chain and other medical facilities on power back up and storage of essential medicines and to plan for unhindered movement of oxygen tankers, the PMO said.
Heavy rainfall in Karnataka
Cyclone Tauktae has hit the coastal region of Karnataka resulting in heavy rainfall especially in Dakshina Kannada district, where wind speed of around 75 kmph was recorded, the IMD said in Bengaluru on Saturday. It predicted heavy to very heavy rainfall in few places adjoining Western Ghat region - Belagavi, Chikkamgaluru, Dakshin Kannada, Hassan, Kodagu, Shivamogga, Udupi and Uttar Kannada districts on Sunday. "Extremely heavy rainfall in few places on Sunday," the IMD said in its statement released at 12.15 hrs on Saturday. Meanwhile, the coastal areas are also likely to be bombarded by strong winds. "Squally winds blowing at speeds between 40-60 kmph, gusting up to 60-70 kmph, are likely at the coasts of Karnataka, with gale winds reaching 60-70 kmph, gusting to 80 kmph on the cards come Sunday," the IMD explained.