Improved coordination among government agencies and an action plan chalked out beforehand helped to minimise the damage when Cyclone Nivar made landfall in the early hours of Thursday.
The India Meteorological Department (IMD) won appreciation for its precise forecast of the movement of the cyclone and its landfall. The timely repairs to its radars in Chennai and Karaikal also helped to track the weather system, officials said.
What was learnt from the blunders made during the 2015 floods stood government agencies in good stead. The ‘first responders’, trained by the Revenue Department, came in handy for government officials.
Soon after the IMD issued the alert, the State government instructed the Collectors of vulnerable districts to take all preparatory steps and mobilise equipment for post-landfall work. Senior IAS officers were deputed to these districts to coordinate efforts. Ticking the items on the check-list became regular, with coordination between the Chief Minister’s office and the Chief Secretary’s with that of the Collectors and senior police officers.
To control floods in the Adyar due to heavy rain it was decided to discharge water from the Chembarambakkam reservoir when the level was nearing 22 feet on Wednesday. As the inflow dropped to 2,400 cubic feet per second (cusecs) on Thursday, the Water Resources Department decreased the release into the Adyar. By evening, it was kept at 500 cusecs-1,000 cusecs.
Officials noted that the measured water release into the Adyar, with the amount of surplus water draining from tanks upstream taken into account, helped to control flash floods. A flood warning was issued and people from low-level areas were evacuated before heavy rain started. “We plan to build up the level to 22 feet and stop discharge according to the inflow and rain. The Adyar carried about 12,000 cusecs on Thursday,” said an official.
The sluice gates of the Red Hills reservoir were not opened on Thursday. The Poondi reservoir is also being monitored for more water from the Ammapalli dam upstream in Andhra Pradesh.
After the cyclone alert, the Puducherry administration and the Collectors of Villupuram and Cuddalore imposed an order under Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, preventing people from venturing out of homes for two days from November 24.
The Fisheries Department and the police asked people to move to 200 temporary shelters on Tuesday and ensure the safety of boats. By Wednesday evening, 1,000 fishermen were shifted to the shelters. The Cuddalore administration shifted 10,000 people to 250-odd camps before the cyclone made landfall.
Law enforcement agencies, however, admit that damage could have been more, had the wind speed been more than 120 kmph during landfall.
In Nagapattinam district, the experience of handling nature’s fury during Cyclone Gaja in 2018 helped to formulate a plan. It was obvious from the fact that 46,000 persons, mostly fishermen, were shifted to relief centres in less than 24 hours. Relief centres were identified from the database of the disaster management system. “We had to put in place a well-established system in a short span of time. We acted quickly to mobilise men and machines in strategic locations,” said Collector Praveen P. Nair.