By Ashish Joshi
Named after the Bengali word for ‘eye’, cyclone Ockhi originated near Sri Lanka after the intensification of a deep depression in the Bay of Bengal. The cyclone hit Sri Lanka and moved west in the Arabian Sea towards Lakshadweep, inflicting severe damage to life and property in the coastal areas of Tamil Nadu and Kerala on its way. Despite a red alert issued in Lakshadweep earlier, the storm caused severe destruction on the islands and then started moving towards Mumbai and Gujarat. Ockhi is being seen as the most intense storm in the Arabian Sea since 2015.
As per the initial prediction, the storm was expected to cause severe damage to the coastal regions of Gujarat and Maharashtra. Thus, a high alert was issued and people were dislocated to rescue camps. However, as per the latest reports from the Indian officials, the storm is weakening and is expected to dissipate before making landfall. Having said that, heavy rainfall is predicted along the coastal regions of Gujarat and Maharashtra for at least 3-4 days. Holidays have been declared for schools and colleges in Maharashtra and Gujarat. Further, there has been a big slowdown in election campaigning in Gujarat as numerous high-profile rallies and campaigning events have been cancelled.
Ockhi’s havoc on India and Sri Lanka
The storm first hit the southern coast of Sri Lanka with heavy rainfall and storms with wind speed in the range of 40–50 miles. Broken trees blocked the roads and broke down the power transmission setup. As per the official figures of Sri Lanka’s disaster management Centre, over 1,23,000 people have been affected in 16 districts. 65 emergency welfare centres have been set up, providing shelter to over 5000 people. More than 32,000 houses sustained damages while 823 were completely destroyed. As of December 4, 14 deaths have been recorded and further 77 are injured.
The storm hit the coastal Indian districts of Tamil Nadu and Kerala on 30th November. Kanyakumari and Tirunelveli districts were hit the hardest. Government officials reported that 33,000 people in Kerala and 2,800 in Tamil Nadu have been affected by the storms. The death toll in these two states is 39 with another 167 missing. Over 4,000 houses have been completely or partially damaged.
On December 2, the storm hit Lakshadweep Islands. In the course of the next two days, it caused a damage of INR 200 crores to the local property and infrastructure. A thousand people have been evacuated to relief camps. Speedy winds have left the areas with uprooted trees and damaged electricity transmission and communication infrastructure. On 4th December, the storm started moving away from the islands towards the coastal regions of Maharashtra and Gujarat. Goa too has experienced the effects of the storm. Beaches have flooded due to high tides and shacks and restaurants along the beaches have been destroyed.
The aftermath: Search and rescue
The Indian Navy and the Coast Guard stepped in with their rescue missions on December 2. As per a statement from the Government of Kerala, 531 fishermen have been rescued and relief has been provided in the affected areas of Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Lakshadweep. A large number of dislocated people have been moved to rescue camps around Kochi.
Despite warnings issued in advance, a lot of fishermen had ventured into the sea for fishing or rescuing peers. The families of missing fishermen claim that they had no idea of the storm or of any prior warnings issued by the government and are heavily disappointed due to the lack of a quick rescue action plan from the government. Hence, a lot of questions have been raised about the existing communication channels of the government. Further, there is a need for a suitable mechanism to track the locations of fishermen in the sea.
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