Terrifying experience29th December, 2011: A team comprising of thirty Central Government Officers reached Chennai from Delhi in an Air India flight. The team enjoyed the afternoon in the Marina beach. In the evening, some of the officers watched films in cinema-halls, the lady members went for marketing. Some simply relaxed in the hotel.
On the early morning next day, the team left the hotel in a bus. The comfortable journey through the East Coast Road was of almost five hours duration. By noon, the team reached Cuddalore, the district headquarter of Cuddalore district of Tamil Nadu. Quickly checking in a hotel, the team members went to meet the District Collector, a very efficient lady IAS Officer. After a long interactive and interesting meeting with the District Collector and her own team, the officers from Delhi were getting readied to conclude the meeting. Then the District Collector asked the team member to wait. Then she announced that a very severe cyclonic storm is going to reach Cuddalore by that day night. She requested the team members to remain safe during the cyclone. She also (indirectly) indicated that the district administration would be extremely busy during and after the cyclone. So, the Delhi team should not expect much help immediately after the cyclone.
Most of the Delhi officers were from northern India, so they didn't have much idea about the severity of cyclone and the damage which would be possible during and after the cyclone. So, they didn't give much importance on the warning of the District Collector.
The team returned to the hotel. The author, who was the Coordinator, immediately met the hotel manager and got the details of Cyclone Thane, which would be going to hit Cuddalore on that night itself.
As a person having previous experience of the cyclone, I had to take the initiative. I met the team-members in the lobby of the hotel, explained in details the problem and also mentioned that there was a possibility to remain stranded in the hotel for some days. I, along with two volunteer officers collected money and went shopping the essential items.
We purchased sufficient number of candles, dry food items, fruits which can be preserved for one or two days, some common medicines, mineral water bottles, torch and cells for the torch, etc. Fortunately, we could finish shopping by 7.30 in the evening. Rain stared while we were returning to the hotel. We finished dinner early and informed our family members about the impending cyclone. We also informed them that during and after the cyclone, there would be no connectivity. We also intimated our respective Ministries about the position.
At around 9.30 PM, I gave instructions to the other members of the team. I advised them not to go out during and after the cyclone under any circumstances and the power-cut and the connectivity problem. While the meeting was in progress, Cyclone Thane formally arrived.
The peculiar whistling sound associated with the cyclone rattled the team members. Some of them complained about ear-ache (which is a symptom which many people experience during cyclone due to the change in pressure). The intensity of the storm started increasing. The lights went off. There was no signal in mobiles.
During the next two days, the officers had a nightmarish experience. They were totally cut off from others. They could not contact the near and dear ones. Many of them panicked. The blood pressures of some of them shoot up. Some started crying. I had to move from one room to other room of the hotel to counsel them. I had to provide water and food when the hotel staff expressed their inability to provide food after one day. I tried to bring all of them in the conference room located on the first floor of the hotel so that the team-members can provide mental support of one another.
Ultimately, on the morning of the new year (1st January, 2012), the fury of the cyclone abated. Then I personally had to ensure so that no one goes outside the hotel because there were many loose electrical wires hanging on the road in front of the hotel. Finally, we could leave Cuddalore at around 12 noon of the new year. Our bus arrived and we started our return journey to Chennai, safe and sound.
Lessons learntLet us now discuss the lessons learnt from the terrifying incident. The first lesson is to arrange essential commodities and other equipment for at least two-day three days. These include food items, drinking water, transistor radio, torch, torch cells, essential medicines, etc. The most important lesson is to remain safe during the cyclone. We must try to remain in a room which is more or less empty. We must try not to panic and counsel others. We must refrain ourselves to go out immediately after the cyclone and avoid loose electrical wires. In case of injury, we have to take the injured person to nearest hospital or health center. In case of any problem of serious nature, we should seek help from Government officials, municipal authorities, instead of approaching unknown people.
Summing upNatural disasters are always terrifying. It becomes manifold when we are in a new or unknown place or while traveling. In case of such events, we must give priority to remain safe. We must not take any risk and in case of emergency, contact the local administration for help, instead of on relying on unknown people.
First of all appreciation to the author for penning this wonderful article for the benefit of those who are bound to face the nature's fury during a cyclone in coastal areas. And what I feel that those who are not habituated to such experience should better postpone the idea of visiting such places even on official duties. There are some places in India along the coastal belt, especially the Cuddalore district, where the cyclonic storm would be severe and it may last for several days. Once I had been to my relative's house just 8 km from Cuddalore town. As I was reaching the place itself, there was a little storm, then the situation intensified and turned to be a cyclonic storm of severe nature and thus was forced to stay in that town for 10 days with the horrible experience. But in my case there was no pre-warning from the MET department, otherwise, I would have avoided going to that place.
A real-life experience, that gives an insight into the precarious situation of being caught in the middle of a cyclone.
Before traveling to areas that often witness storms or visiting coastal areas, it is prudent to check the weather alerts for that particular place and time so that we can change our plans in time.
As with any travel plans, we need to take care of our medical supplies and basic travel kit. Like hikers, we can carry some high energy foods (energy bars, glucose, chocolates) and dry foodstuff.
Once caught in the middle of a cyclone, we need to secure whatever water and food we can lay our hands on and start rationing it. We need to support each other and stay in a relatively secure place we can find. We should find a route to escape or the way to the terrace if air rescue helicopters are pressed into service.
We need to stay focused so that we can make the best use of what is available to us. We need to keep bright clothes or objects handy so that rescuers can see us easily. When trapped in an old building, we need to be aware of the chances of a collapse of the walls or doors and windows being blown off.
It is always better to go prepared when we are visiting certain places particularly coastal places where the chances of unexpected storms and cyclones will be more.
The big threat during these cyclone days in the affected areas is the spreading of contagious diseases. They will spread like a fire and one should be careful in getting water and eatables from outside. It is better to boil the water and drink. The food also should be purchased selectively.