‘Moving people to camps reduced loss of life’

Minister for Disaster Management R.B. Udhayakumar donned the role of a war-room manager, staying overnight at the control room, when the State braced for Cyclone Nivar. In an interview on Friday, he spoke about how the government machinery cushioned the impact of the cyclone, in terms of loss of life and property. Ensuring that 2.32 lakh persons moved to relief camps reduced the loss of lives, he says. Excerpts:

How did the government prepare to face Cyclone Nivar?

We undertook a three-stage scientific approach — pre-disaster, during the disaster and post-disaster.

In the pre-disaster phase, we identified 4,133 vulnerable localities, classifying them into four categories — where water inundation would be above 5 ft, up to 5 ft, 2 ft and 1 ft.

We undertook vulnerability mapping for every revenue district. We had our first responders ready. Besides, we readied 4,000 taluk-levels teams, which were constantly in touch with the local community.

Next, we decided to stop all modes of transport — buses, trains and flights — and had good coordination with the National Disaster Response Force, the SDRF and the armed forces.

Ministers and police officers visited several villages to ensure safety.

We had over 5,000 relief camps, including 121 permanent multi-purpose halls, where over two lakh people were housed. Through the Navy, we alerted fishermen who had gone for deep-sea fishing.

So these steps restricted the loss of life to three?

We can say that there was almost no loss of life. If you see the three incidents [the toll has gone up to four now], one involved a 90-year old woman who died after an old wall collapsed. In Tiruvallur too, a similar wall collapsed. In the third incident in Chennai, which you would have seen on television, a tree fell on a man.

This was why the Chief Minister warned people against going out unnecessarily, until six hours after the cyclone makes landfall.

He had also warned people not to go near old and vulnerable buildings.

But can the government claim the entire credit for minimal damage since the impact of the cyclone too was not so severe during landfall?

The IMD said wind speed due to the cyclone would be about 145 kmph, and we prepared for it.

The Chief Minister gave instructions to prepare well in advance. There were three stages to the cyclone, and in the first stage it was not weak. Only after 80% of the second stage, did the cyclone weaken. There was heavy rainfall for two days before the day it made landfall. We prepared for all eventualities, and naturally, the credit goes to the Chief Minister.

Was there any major challenge?

Usually, people living in low-lying areas hesitate to come [to relief camps]. They will hesitate to leave behind their cattle and other things. People usually come only after there is inundation. Convincing them to come to relief camps, for their own safety, is a challenge. And we were able to do it. Over 2.32 lakh people came to the camps, whereas during Cyclone Gaja, the number was only about 1 lakh. The loss of human lives was less only because people came to the relief camps.

How will you rate the cooperation from the people, officials and the Opposition parties?

There was 100% cooperation from the general public. All officials from various Departments were quite dedicated and worked hard, round-the-clock. As for Opposition parties, it will be better if they do not say anything as it will only confuse the people.

What is your takeaway from the four cyclones you handled since December 2016?

We have been learning from every cyclone. Every cyclone has its own feature, such as wind speed. Depending on that, we have been taking precautions.

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Printable version | Jan 18, 2021 7:31:08 AM |

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