Winter rains and storms are a dreaded facet of the weather cycle in south India. The winter floods of December 2015 had taken a toll of more than 500 lives in and around Cheni. But this year, the administration in Cheni was much better prepared for Cyclone Vardah with the death toll confined to seven. Having learnt its lesson from the winter tragedy of last year, the Tamil du administration spent quality time getting prepared for Cyclone Vardah. This is what Cheni Civic Commissioner D. Karthikeyan had to say about the preparations: “We had been tracking the cyclone for the past few days, so the usual drill was in place. We identified and evacuated the most vulnerable areas. Food packets, water and warm clothing were provided to those shifted to safer places. Last year’s deluge took us by surprise, but this time we were prepared.” How well prepared the administration in Cheni was can be gauged from the ferocity of Cyclone Vardah, the remarkably small number of casualties compared to December 2015 and the swiftness with which the city’s arterial roads were cleared of uprooted trees. The two days of closure following Jayalalithaa’s death do not seem to have affected the efficient functioning of the administration in getting ready for Cyclone Vardah.
What people tend to overlook is the magnitude of a tural calamity like Cyclone Vardah. A storm that has a front of a few hundred kilometres and moves with a velocity of around 120 kmph is fearsome even to comprehend let alone having to face such a calamity. Even the eye of Cyclone Vardah was estimated to be about 15 km wide. The devastation was of a size and scale that could not have been anticipated. The cyclone felled about 4,000 trees, flattened homes, spped communication and power lines and knocked over cars. Cheni airport was shut with all flights cancelled and 44 intertiol and 123 domestic flights diverted. Likewise, many trains were scrapped as well. Cyclone Vardah made landfall at around 3 p.m. on Monday at a spot 10 km north of the city. By the evening, the administration had maged to clear the main thoroughfares of the city for emergency service vehicles. But just after the major roads had been cleared of fallen trees, a second spell of wind after the cyclone uprooted many more trees.
The efficiency of any government is best seen and judged at times of crisis. What the Tamil du government had to cope with when Cyclone Vardah hit the coastal area around Cheni may be difficult to imagine for people who are not familiar with how a sea behaves when there is a storm of such magnitude. The Tamil du government and the administrators of Cheni deserve to be congratulated on the way they not only coped with Cyclone Vardah but prepared for it in advance to rule out casualties. The administration learnt its lesson from the winter floods of 2015 and put its experience to good use. In any other country such ability to learn from experience would be expected as the norm; but it stands out as something extraordiry in a country where people seldom put the lessons learned from experience to good use. We salute the administration of Cheni for having been able to use their experience of last year’s winter floods for the safety and well-being of the people.