Thousands of trees were uprooted, cable and electricity wires snapped, windowpanes of tall building shattered, hoardings were ripped apart, signboards crashed to the ground, traffic was paralyzed and about 3000 street lamps were brought to the ground on the wake of the Vardah cyclone. About 40 trains were canceled and people were stranded in the railway stations; flights were suspended due to the windstorm that recorded up to 140 kmph wind-speed; the entire city, including the TNEB headquarters, experienced a total blackout as there was a power shut down to avoid mishaps; rescue boats, swimmers and NDRF personnel were kept on hold and the army, navy and air-force were alerted. The sky was filled with sparrows, pigeons, bats, crows and eagles that moved further into the land as the winds subsided before the landfall; the roads were filled with a carpet of dead leaves. Chennai, the eye of the severe cyclonic storm, witnessed a similar spirit of volunteerism that helped the city spring back to life during the 2015 floods.
Image source: Vardah cyclone
On Tuesday (13/12/2016) morning, Chennai looked like it was run over by a giant land-mower. My heart goes out to all those whose houses, vehicles and shops were destroyed by the most severe storm that the city has seen in two decades. While priests religiously opened the temples, performed poojas and did their bit by praying for the safety of all, the Tamil Nadu Tauheet Jamat volunteers (TNTJ) decided to celebrate Meelad-un-Nabi by clearing the uprooted trees and dangling wires to enable residents to commute safely. The city’s residents received their newspapers, milk packets, gas cylinders and various other services without any disruption – thanks to the health department, fire services, red cross, L & O Police, traffic police, the TNEB staff, corporation workers, MTC bus drivers, ambulance drivers and residents who worked tirelessly, despite the drastic weather conditions to regain normalcy. The storm displaced the fine beach sand to the service lane, that looked like a parallel beach but that did not stop the man who fed the pigeons and stray dogs from visiting them that morning. Though the tiny roadside shop in mylapore lost its roof, the shop owner made sure his customers did not go hungry. And my 8-year old cousin, on seeing the devastation looked up at me with his big sympathetic eyes and asked “Shall we adopt that crow? He looks drenched and sad.”
I am amazed by the volunteering spirit, during natural calamities in Chennai, that doesn’t seem to fade. By Tuesday evening, Chennaites lit up their homes with lamps and burst crackers to celebrate Deepam and I realized that as we go back to our routines we’ve only tackled the results and not the cause. We need to concentrate not just in rehabilitation but in taking preventive measures for the long run. People in the administration level need to realize this and work towards pro-active tree health care management along the coramandel coast. Policy changes need to made and Mangroves and Casuarina trees need to be planted to battle cyclones. To our dismay, the unpredictable Vardah cyclone resulted in less than 11cms of rainfall which is insuffient to fill the Poondi, Red hills and Chembarambakkam reservoirs and tend to the city’s requirement. These extreme climatic conditions are the result of global warming – the threat of which is no myth, so in addition to being benevolent, let us become environmentally conscious and lead an Eco-friendly way of life before its too late (Unless we want to die along the Chennai coast like the Olive Ridleys!)