Destruction showed a repetitive pattern this December when the cyclonic winds of Vardah ravaged Chennai, Kancheepuram and Thiruvallur districts; last year it was the floods that took these districts down.
According to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (US) best track database, Vardah was the closest Category 1 or stronger landfall to hit Chennai in over 50 years, since November 28, 1966.
By the time the cyclone roared away from Chennai on Monday night, there was a trail of destruction with thousands of uprooted trees, scores of damaged buildings, car and buses flipped over like tin cans, and electric poles and cables snapped leaving millions of people without power. Flooding was also an issue in few areas, with places like Shollinganallur recording 382mm of rainfall, the official death toll is pegged at 16.
But hundreds of people were out clearing the roads by the morning of December 13. Local community groups were formed quickly, and social media was used to good effect and resources poured in double quick time. Some of the volunteer groups that worked during the floods last year sprang back to life.
This time, the Police, ED department, Corporation and Municipal officials worked in a much better fashion than during last year’s floods. The blue uniformed Corporation workers are the city’s heroes who are working tirelessly to bring the city back on its feel again. Although lack of resources and adequate equipment is a cause of concern, a worrying trend in providing relief work is the apathy shown towards the poorer section of the society, particularly in north Chennai where any relief work is an afterthought, still many places are without power or water supply and the cries of the people for relief are being ignored.
The State Disaster Management authority is yet to get its act right, they are more reactionary than precautionary, which makes the department’s existence futile. Although they did evacuate almost 8,000 people before the cyclone hit the city, what they lack is a comprehensive plan on how various disasters should be handled before and after.
A white paper needs to be put forth in public detailing this and also the lessons learnt from past disasters needs to be drilled into the psyche of authorities so they are better prepared for future disasters.
There is no doubt that Chennai is one of the most resilient cities in the world and the people have proved it once again. Tree plantation drives have started in many parts and are expected to go in full swing once the debris is removed. Various NGOs and concerned citizens are taking the responsibility for recreating a green city.
Also, the heart of the city was on display when residents took it upon themselves to save stray dogs from getting killed and giving them shelter and food. As Mahatma Gandhi said, “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” Though we have a long way to go in this regard, it is heartening to see the care and concern shown by the people for other species with whom they share land space with.
When it comes to disaster, it is a humbling experience for humans to realise the rage of nature. As we move on from this disaster, we will do well to not forget those who stood up to nature’s fury and to not forget the lessons we learnt.
Disclaimer: The views expressed above are the author’s own