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Havoc in Havelock

CYCLONE VARDHA: If it was rains last year, it is cyclone that wrecked havoc in Chennai. The very severe cyclone Vardah that crossed Chennai on December 12, killed as many as 16 people and uprooted over one lakh trees in the districts of Chennai, Thiruvallur and Kanchipuram. The coastal districts of Andhra Pradesh too bore the brunt of Vardah’s fury. Seen here is an uprooted tree on the Theosophical Society campus, one of the best maintained green spaces in Chennai.

CYCLONE VARDHA: If it was rains last year, it is cyclone that wrecked havoc in Chennai. The very severe cyclone Vardah that crossed Chennai on December 12, killed as many as 16 people and uprooted over one lakh trees in the districts of Chennai, Thiruvallur and Kanchipuram. The coastal districts of Andhra Pradesh too bore the brunt of Vardah’s fury. Seen here is an uprooted tree on the Theosophical Society campus, one of the best maintained green spaces in Chennai.   | Photo Credit: R. Ragu

Cyclone Vardah amid a family holiday in the Andamans

We aren’t big on regular family trips, so when after a hiatus of three years we decided to head to the Andamans with extended family, it was a big decision. With much apprehension we booked a trip from December 3 to 8 covering all must-do activities in Port Blair, Havelock, and Neil Island. We had five senior citizens in the group, related as in-laws, who hadn’t spent more than a few hours in each other’s extended company. We knew it could very well turn out to be the clash of the titans.

 

Chanting que sera sera, we boarded our flight to Port Blair from Chennai. Little did we know what was in store.

 

Done with Corbyn beach and the light-and-sound show at the Cellular Jail on the very first day, we trooped off for a visit to Ross Island the next day, only to return dejected due to the choppy waters. We were still blissfully unaware of the storm that was brewing. The group was upset over the cancelled visit, and grumpily boarded the cruise ferry for Havelock Island. That place was paradise! After checking into our resort, we made a beeline to the lovely beach, where I thought I would spend the rest of my stay.

 

December 5 was a good day. The family went diving, sea-walking, and checking out other beaches. I spent the day just staring at the ocean and sipping cocktails, happiness all around. The next day we were to go to Neil Island, and I was dreading the ferry ride and praying that I get out of it somehow. I get seasick — it’s not a pretty sight.

 

My wish did come true, and how! Winds picked up from the night of December 5 and a storm warning came early morning on December 6. We were told that no boats would ply that day, as the sea was disturbed. I was happy. After all, Neil Island could not be that different from Havelock and I was as it is ecstatic where I was. The only thing was that

there was no network to make calls and not even wi-fi for Internet access. So getting information in or out was difficult. But we were still on schedule, so no one would miss us. We could just catch a boat direct to Port Blair the next day.

 

But the next day we heard about Vardah, and the prospect of having to stay in Havelock longer. The other guests were getting worried — they had things to do at home, prior commitments, worried family, and additional expenses that came with an extended stay. I on the other hand love storms. I love the power they have. I find it amazing to stand against the wind and the rain — and Vardah was delivering.

 

Unfortunately some of the other guests weren’t enjoying it so much. We had a couple in the cabin next to ours with a year-old-baby. They didn’t even have an umbrella! They were soaked trying to get food and the man promptly fell ill. We lent them one of our umbrellas. The pathways were waterlogged and one person got a bad cut from a stray wire. He soon had a foot infection and there was no doctor to access.

 

Resorts had shut down power supply during the day as they were running short of generator fuel. Food was set menu only as supplies were running out. Added to this, the uncertainty was getting to people, and most of the guests were sitting in the reception area trying to get some news. Tempers were running high as packages expired and hotels started charging rack rates. Having nothing to do and no means of communication only heightened anxiety levels. It was a study in human behaviour and organisational response.

 

And then something amazing happened. People rallied. They put the adversity aside and connected. We put our phones aside, played games, sang songs, laughed at the power cuts, listened to each other’s stories, and forgot that a world existed outside. The system rallied too. Resort managers and travel agents did a phenomenal job of crisis management. They kept us informed of developments, they asked for help, they reassured people, and they agreed to deferred payments; we could get back home and transfer money.

 

Finally, on December 9 the weather cleared and we rushed to be rescued. But it was mayhem with little order or process. Foreigners were taken out first at the cost of Indians who could have still caught their flights, and many people were angry at being treated as second-class citizens in their own country. Rumours were rampant about rescue operations, personnel couldn’t even manage to keep people in line, and after 12 hours of getting soaked, pushed, and shoved we managed to board a Navy ship. A 4.5-hour rocky voyage deposited us in Port Blair, where we waited for another three days to get back to Chennai.

 

Imagine our faces when we reached the airport on December 12, only to be told that Vardah had got there before us and no flights would take off. But that is another story. We managed to pay through our teeth and get back home via Kolkata, taking along fond memories and a year’s supply of stories about the Havoc in Havelock.

 

jain.supriya82@gmail.com

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Printable version | Feb 17, 2020 6:48:53 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/article16946766.ece

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