Cyclone havoc

Published : Oct 21, 2005 00:00 IST

A storm and torrential rain kill about 100 people, displace three lakh families, and destroy crops and local infrastructure in the northern coastal districts of Andhra Pradesh.

M. MALLESWARA RAO in Hyderabad

FOR a State with a 1,030-kilometre long coastline along the Bay of Bengal, storms and cyclones cannot but be a regular phenomenon. No fewer than 26 cyclones have hit Andhra Pradesh since the Diviseema tidal wave tragedy in 1977, almost all of them during October-November, the "cyclone season", when temperatures in the ocean increase.

In a departure from this trend, a cyclone struck the northern tip of the State on September 19, bringing torrential rain. North coastal Andhra and Telangana experienced rain non-stop for two days as the storm crossed the coast and hovered over the port town of Kalingapatnam. It claimed nearly 100 lives, displaced nearly three lakh families, and damaged crops and local infrastructure.

The battering rain continued long after the cyclone passed. Thereafter on September 18, in a repeat of the July 26 rain, when India's commercial capital Mumbai received 944 mm of rainfall on a single day, Koonavaram received 450 mm, Koida 480 mm and Kalingapatnam 350 mm, the highest in the town's recorded history. Several other places received 400 mm of rain.

This was only the beginning. As the cyclone raced towards Chhattisgarh, there was heavy rain in the catchment areas of the Godavari and Krishna rivers throughout Orissa, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra. The Panahita, the Indravathi, the Wyn Ganga, the Wardha, the Sabari and a dozen hill-streams swelled abruptly, discharging huge quantities of water into the Godavari, which reached the 55-foot mark at Bhadrachalam, 3 feet above the danger mark. The raging rivers burst their banks and flooded hundreds of villages and homes.

With all the dams overflowing, seven lakh cusecs of water from the Krishna and at least 22 lakh cusecs from the Godavri were discharged into the sea on September 20, a record in either case. The total loss of water from the two rivers this season has been calculated at over 4,000 tmcft, enough to irrigate four crore acres or provide drinking water to all cities and towns in the country for a year.

Normal life in coastal Andhra and Telangana came to a standstill; Srikakulam, Vizianagaram and Visakhapatnam districts bore the brunt of the onslaught, while villages around Bhadrachalam remained submerged for several days. The train link between the north and south of the country remained cut-off for two days following several breaches to the railway track near Kazipet junction. Stranded passengers had to do without food and drinking water. The Chennai-Kolkata National Highway was also cut-off; flood-waters submerged the road near Tanuku after villagers breached a tank upstream to save their homes. After a bus was trapped in a causeway in the district of Khammam, the Andhra Pradesh State Road Transport Corporation cancelled bus services for two days.

Vast stretches of crops in 12 districts lay under a sheet of water. The famous Kolleru lake overflowed submerging numerous aqua farms and a large expanse of paddy fields. The untamed Budameru flooded parts of Vijayawada forcing the authorities to postpone the elections to the municipal corporation in several areas. Eight days after the floods, the bodies of four members of a family surfaced from the muddy waters at Subbaraju Nagar in Vijayawada. This devastation took place despite the experience gained in disaster management by regional administrations after the Diviseema tragedy. In advance of the oncoming storm maps had been prepared indicating which villages needed evacuating at what points along the Godavari. Yet, apparently, preparations were not fully undertaken.

In West Godavari district, gale-force winds swept swathes of fields. An uprooted tree fell on an electric line killing a farmer carrying dry hay. About 100 people were caught in the midst of swollen streams near Khammam before they were rescued by expert swimmers. Over five lakh acres of crops were damaged and banana plantations were flattened. In all, four lakh people were affected in over 5,000 villages and towns. The rains destroyed 7,738 houses and left 7,804 others partially damaged. Roughly two lakh people had to be shifted to 500 relief camps where they were provided food for a week. Herds of cattle and sheep were reported lost on the islands of the Godavari. Nearly 2,500 tanks were breached, 220 cyclone shelters were damaged and 800 km of road was destroyed.

After touring the cyclone-hit areas, Chief Minister Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy put the total loss at Rs.2,698 crores and sought Rs.1,200 crores of financial assistance and 12 lakh tonnes of rice from the Centre. A nine-member Central team that visited the flood-affected areas promised early assistance.

THE floods have become a rallying point for political parties, especially the Telugu Desam Party (TDP), to criticise the government. They do so on three counts: lack of advance warning for the evacuation of low-lying areas, continuation of polling in the municipal elections when large areas were still under water, and insufficient relief measures. N. Chandrababu Naidu, TDP president and former Chief Minister, who visited the affected areas, alleged that the Chief Minister was neglecting the flood victims and concentrating on the elections and that he had failed to persuade Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to visit the affected areas when he came to the Sriharikota rocket launching station in the State.

In response, Rajasekhara Reddy took Chandrababu Naidu to task for trying to derive political mileage out of the flood despite the relief work done by the government. He pointed out that Manmohan Singh had approved of his change of plan to visit the flood-hit areas instead of meeting the Prime Minister at Sriharikota.

A week later, Congress president Sonia Gandhi's visit to the affected areas sparked off another controversy. Though she cheered up victims wherever she went, critics said she seemed to be in a hurry to return to Delhi. Having waited for hours behind barricades to narrate their tales of woe, many felt her visit was too short.

Apart from announcing a grant of Rs.2 lakhs for the families of flood victims, the Chief Minister said a special scheme would be taken up to provide permanent houses to all those living in flood-prone areas and modernise the drainage system in the State by removing encroachments on river banks. More than anything else, the wastage of such large quantities of water has apparently strengthened the government's resolve to construct projects on the two rivers.

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