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The worst spell so far

V. Jayanth

Extensive damage to roads, bridges and railway tracks

CHENNAI: In just over a month, the northeast monsoon rain has played havoc in Tamil Nadu. The third and latest spell of rain, so widespread, has caused extensive damage to the infrastructure — roads, rail track, bridges, houses and thousands of tanks, lakes and ponds that have filled up after years.

Though the rain has ceased for now, the meteorologists do not offer much comfort to the battered State.

There lurks another threat in the form of a system further east, which lies near Singapore now, but it may be too early to predict its course.

Bad year

It has been a bad year for Tamil Nadu. Starting with the catastrophic tsunami on December 26 last year, there have been a series of natural calamities. After a hot summer and a water crisis, the State has received more than its share of rain, both from the southwest and northeast monsoons.

Since the onset of the northeast monsoon, there have been three major spells, and Tamil Nadu has not fully recovered from the previous bout, which ended barely 10 days ago.

The State Government has submitted a detailed memorandum to a Central team that visited the flood-affected areas recently. But there is now an urgent need for another team to assess the damage and come up with a comprehensive package of relief and assistance.

Revenue, Relief and PWD officials admit that they have not seen anything like this for years. The 1977 floods in the central and southern parts and the 1985-86 episode in Chennai are other major rain disasters that come to their mind. Only this time, the rain is so incessant and widespread that they have devastated most parts.

National Highway 45, the major artery of the State, has remained cut off for two days, and water is flowing over other National and State highways. Many bridges, culverts and causeways have collapsed or have been washed away. Except for the two cases of buses being washed away, the death toll has not risen to an alarming level, but the damage to the infrastructure may be substantial.

Officials say the priority is to provide immediate relief to the affected people and those rendered homeless. It will take some time for any assessment of the damage. Going by available reports, officials says Cuddalore, Nagapattinam, Thanjavur, Pudukottai, Tiruchi, Dindigul, Madurai, Sivaganga, Virudhunagar, Ramanathapuram, Namakkal and Erode may be among the worst hit districts. Till the floodwaters recede, it may be difficult to even begin the assessment. For immediate relief, the Government has taken the help of Coast Guard.

According to Eastern Coast Guard Commander Rajendra Singh, relief operations centred on Sethiarthope and Sivaganga for most of the day. "More than 600 people were marooned in that place, and people were found standing in clusters. Many villages and houses were submerged. Our ship, Vikram, with the helicopter, reached the area and began operations. Dornier aircraft undertook continuous search and rescue operation. Food packets were airdropped. There was no electricity in the entire area."

There was request for assistance from Sivaganga too, besides Pudukottai. At least 65 persons were evacuated by a Coast Guard team. Boats as well as hovercraft have been continuously engaged in operations.

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