July 04, 2020
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Bay Of Death

500 die as a cyclone slams flood-hit coastal areas

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Bay Of Death

NATURE seems to have targeted Andhra Pradesh to unleash all its fury. Barely had the state started to recover from flash floods that hit the coast last month, when a deadly cyclone struck the coastal districts last week. The two disasters have together claimed 2,000 lives, besides destroying property and crops in five districts and putting a heavy strain on the financially-starved 14-month-old government of N. Chandrababu Naidu.

It was the overflowing reservoirs in Prakasan and Cuddapah districts, breached at several places, which flooded the low-lying villages and claimed hundreds of human lives and cattle, besides destroying standing crops. The recent hurricane, with winds blowing at 160-180 km per hour, wreaked havoc in East and West Godavari districts.

It is not as if the Naidu Government was caught napping and had not taken precautionary measures. When the meteorological centre at Visakhapatnam sounded a red alert on November 5, the chief minister, who was still organising relief in flood-affected areas, sent directives to district collectors to gear up the administration. More than two lakh people in the coastal districts of Visakhapatnam, East Godavari, West Godavari, Krishna and Prakasam were evacuated to safer places. Hundreds of temporary relief camps were set up.

It wasn’t enough. Admits the chief minister: "In spite of our best efforts we could not restrict the loss of human lives. Such fury of nature has never been heard of in the state’s history." On hearing of the tragedy that struck East Godavari district, where more than 300 deaths were reported, Naidu air-dashed to the area along with Union Minister Yerram Naidu and state Agriculture Minister S.V. Subba Reddy to oversee the relief operations. Official sources say some 500 people perished last week, but highly-placed independent sources peg the toll at twice the number.

Says J.V.M. Naidu, director of the cyclone warning centre at Visakhapatnam: "Even our calculations relating to the magnitude of the storm were proved wrong." What baffled him most was the storm’s magnitude, which took in its sweep the coastal land up to 5 km from the seashore.

Had the cyclonic storm crossed the Visakhapatnam coast—which is relatively ‘deep’ (and is protected by the natural mountain called "Dolphin Nose")—its severity would have been much less than the one that hit Kakinada. The cyclonic storm also raises doubts about the efficacy of the "cyclone-warning dissemination system", which is said to be "the most reliable warning system in the world".

Installed in 80 centres of the state, including the office of the Relief Commissioner in Hyderabad, a clear warning is possible only about 48 hours before the macabre dance of death and destruction begins. Even this warning presupposes that the interlinked systems in the mandal revenue offices are maintained properly.

As many as 18 cyclones have struck the Andhra coast this century, beginning with the one in 1921 which hit Nellore claiming hundreds of lives. In fact, killer cyclones have struck Nellore five times; Krishna, Prakasam and Guntur once each.

While the estimated loss caused by the depression in the Bay of Bengal this month is pegged at around Rs 850 crore, initial estimates for the cyclone are said to be in the region of Rs 2,000 crore. The damage to crops in the paddy-rich Godavari districts—East and West—is colossal.

Cash-strapped as he is, Naidu has appealed to Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda to help the state, deliver army and air force assistance, and declare the tragedy a "national calamity". But, barring a visit by Gowda to the affected areas, the Centre’s response has not been encouraging. So much so that Naidu is finding it difficult to take up relief operations on a war-footing, except making aerial surveys and explaining his anguish through the media. Which means that the travails of the hapless victims will continue for quite some time. 

in Hyderabad

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