Cyclone Ockhi not only left a trail of destruction across South Kerala, but also raised questions over the State’s preparedness to deal with major natural calamities affecting tens of thousands of families.
Even as the Coast Guard, Navy, and Air Force began efforts to rescue over 150 fishermen reported missing at sea, coastal communities allege that the storm had exposed fundamental flaws in the State’s disaster management system.
They are demanding action against the State Disaster Management Authority (SDMA) for the failure to provide warning in time. The Kerala Swathantra Matsya Thozhilali Federation and National Fishworkers Forum alleged that the disaster management set up in the State had failed to respond to the situation.
Friends of Marine Life, a city-based NGO, said the SDMA was guilty of having ignored the warnings issued by the India Met Department. According to Robert Panipilla, coordinator, FML, efforts to rescue fishermen were launched a full 40 hours after the storm had started wreaking havoc along the Kerala coast.
Countering the allegations, a press note issued by the SDMA said the routine alerts on strong winds and high waves issued by the IMD and INCOIS could not be taken for a disaster situation. The SDMA kicks in only after a cyclone has been declared. “Our Standard Operating Procedure lays down clear guidelines on when to declare an emergency. This is to avoid creating false alarms that could lull vulnerable communities into complacency,” it said.
The SDMA said the authority had wasted no time in informing the officials concerned and the media about the cyclone. “Early morning on Thursday, the IMD had announced the formation of a depression 270 km south east of Kanyakumari. There was no cyclone warning for the State. A second bulletin at 8.30 a.m. showed that the system had intensified into a deep depression over Comorin and a cyclone alert was issued for Lakshadweep,’’ it said.
“It was only at 12 noon that the IMD issued an Orange message with a cyclone warning for South Kerala. Immediately after, the SDMA had issued a warning to officials and the media, activated the SOP and alerted emergency services. By evening, the Chief Minister convened a meeting to coordinate and discuss the arrangements,” it said.