TN govt weathers the Cyclone Vardah as the storm wreaks havoc in Chennai
The Tamil Nadu government faced its first test after Jayalalithaa's death as it braced itself for Cyclone Vardah. Vardah was the worst-ever storm to hit Chennai in over two decades.
Ahead of Vardah landfall near Chennai Port in the heart of the city, the government moved over 15,000 people from vulnerable areas to over 100 cyclone shelters and ensured food and medicine, thereby minimising chances of casualties. Chief Minister Panneerselvam, in a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has put the death toll at 16.
Given the fact that Vardah ripped through Chennai, with wind speeds reaching upto 130 kmph and caused widespread damage to infrastructure and crops, the number of casualties were relatively low as the tempest did not trigger heavy rains, as feared However, while there were no heavy rains in the city, the neighbouring districts were affected.
As Vardah neared the coast, it rained the all night in Chennai. But by Monday afternoon, when it made its landfall, the rains had stopped.
Bus and suburban trains were suspended, forcing people to stay indoors. Buses could not ply as many roads were blocked by fallen tree branches.
The government also shut schools and colleges, a routine precaution and banks functioned with thin attendance.
The Southern Railway canceled dozens of trains bound for south and north, catching hundreds of passengers off guard in Egmore and Central. Even the suburban train services from Beach to Tambaram and the Mass Rapid Transport System that connects Beach to the southern suburb of Velacheri was also halted.
Many roads were blocked as 16,000 trees were uprooted, according to the chief minister. Corporation staff and fire services personnel worked all night to clear road blocks. The morning after the storm, skeletal bus services were resumed. But many people stayed indoors. As the day wore on, the buses were withdrawn.
The government could not maintain milk supply, normally around 11 lakh litres per day, by the State-owned milk cooperative Aavin which caters to Chennai. The milk trucks could not make it to the city.
The government failed to maintain power supply which remained disrupted the whole day of the cyclone. It continued the next day also. It was partly restored only by Tuesday evening only to be disrupted again. Thereafter the supply became erratic, normalcy was restored only on Wednesday morning.
The government said that more than 10,000 electric poles and 800 transformers were damaged, leading to extensive power failure in the city.
As a result, mobile phones went dead, putting people in a lurch. Even otherwise, mobile towers were hit and connectivity was a problem. Even those with landlines could not call their near and dear ones in distress as they had gotten used to saving the numbers on the mobile phones and BSNL has stopped the publication of telephone directory.
The Modi government's ambitious plan to go digital also suffered a hit as many ATMs were shut, as they have been since 8 November, and shops and establishments refused to accept payment by card because of connectivity issues.
In the letter to Modi, Panneerselvam said that the cyclone has caused extensive damage to the power infrastructure besides drinking water and sewer lines. He requested the Centre to depute a team to study the damage and immediately release an "on account" payment of Rs 1,000 crore from the National Disaster Response Fund to help speed up relief and reconstruction.