Chennai Cyclone Experience

Last December, I had written a post on surviving the Chennai floods. This year, it is about the Cyclone. For those of you not in the know, there was a super cyclone that made landfall near Chennai on December 12th, 2016, disrupting life in the Indian states of Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh.

Our Metrological department had warned us the previous day that there will be heavy rains and winds. The government had issued a notice about it and declared a holiday for schools and colleges. Also, it had advised private companies to either declare a holiday or ask employees to work from home, because travelling during a cyclone was not advisable. They had also announced that there will be a power cut throughout the city to avoid any mishaps.

We were used to the rains and power cuts, thanks to the previous year’s flood, so we all stocked up on food, drinking water, and medical supplies. We had cleared all non-water resistant things off the floor and filled buckets of tap water. We charged our phones, power banks and all our gadgets. All of us were pretty much flood ready, but not exactly cyclone ready. Some of us had the common sense to move all the things in our balcony and terrace indoors, but not all of us.

The day began with a power cut. While the news informed that the power would be cut by noon, I was awoken at 6.00 am because the fan didn’t work (It can be sultry in Chennai even during winter mornings). As anyone living in an apartment would behave, my mom had filled up all the buckets with water by the time I woke up. I was stupid not to charge my phone the previous day. I figured I could do that in the morning, but I didn’t know that there will be a power outage for two days.

By forenoon, there was a weird howling sound like the soundtrack of a horror movie. The wind blew with so much gusto that it made a noise, but not too strong to create any havoc. Then it started to rain and it was the most beautiful thing to watch. It looked like fog in daylight, and you never see fog in Chennai unless it is early morning in winter. It was no fog; it was merely rain sprayed around by the strong winds, blurring out the surroundings. It was a joy to watch it.

Soon, it started pouring heavily and the wind had more force. We had to close all the windows and doors, so it was quite dark inside the house. I couldn’t read without a candle, so spent a lot of time simply enjoying the rain. To keep abreast of the news, I charged my phone from my laptop and browsed for a short time. I learned that the cyclone would make landfall by 1.00 pm, and we should lock ourselves indoors during that time. My dad went to the terrace and told us how all the trees were swaying, not the leaves, but the entire trees. I chided how it was risky and requested him to stay indoors. My mom also wanted to see the spectacle and wouldn’t listen when I told her it isn’t safe. I had to tag along to make sure she is safe (I’m paranoid).

It was quite scary to watch the entire length of coconut trees swaying in the wind. Sure, I’ve watched videos of hurricanes and this is nothing compared to them, but seeing the effects of a cyclone right in front of you is a different thing than watching a video online. We aren’t even near the place where the landfall was made, so I was afraid for the people in Northern Chennai. How many trees would fall, how much damage to property would they have to endure? Would any life be at stake? Are my friends and relatives safe? My fears were alleviated when I read a news update that thousands of people were evacuated from Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh for their safety. The government was well prepared.

When my phone died and my sim card could not be fit into my parent’s phones, we wished we had a radio. With nothing else to do, I did what any bibliophile would – read a book with a cyclone in it. I downloaded The Wonderful Wizard of Oz on my Kindle and started reading it. While I was drowned in my book, my dad noticed water seeping in the master bedroom. This is a new house, so we assumed that the construction was not up to par and decided to have a word with our builder the next day.

My dad and I inspected all the windows and every inch of the ceiling to check for water leaks. Our only problem was the water seepage in the room window. Later, we found that there wasn’t an issue in construction. The wind blew with such a force that the locked windows rattled and when they moved, even by a smidgen, the rainwater sprayed in. After some time, we found water in the kitchen too. At first, we thought it was from the refrigerator but soon found out that it was from the kitchen windows. Needless to say, the majority of the day was spent in cleaning up the water.

The house was now dark, wet and slippery all around. There was the occasional noise of something falling down or crashing onto some surface. With the howling of the wind growing louder, it felt like being in a haunted house. Then it all stopped. The sky was a beautiful blue now with all the grey clouds dispersed. We were now in the eye of the storm and things calmed down. I activated an internet pack on my mom’s phone to see if things were now normal. The news strongly advised people not to wander around because the cyclone was just halfway crossed.

We spent the rest of the day indoors without any connection to the outer world and didn’t know what happened around us. Apparently, it was wilder after the calm because the next morning, we could see so many fallen trees. I wasn’t even aware we had so many trees in the neighbourhood till I saw them all on the road. There were trucks to pick up the uprooted trees and clear the roads. In almost every street, people were chopping off branches of trees that were hanging off dangerously close to windows, electric cables, transformers, electric poles, lamp posts, vehicles, etc. On my way to the office, I saw a car squished under an electric post. The signboards of shops had all fallen down. Plastic water tanks in open areas and terraces were whisked off to random places. Sand piled up in construction sites were blown away. Roads were littered with random things.

I had to take many diversions before reaching my destination because every single road had some kind of obstruction. Some routes felt like a forest, except that instead of the trees standing upright, they were leaning like the tower of Pisa against a wall or tangling with other trees, forming arches. The striking thing was that it was mostly scorching hot. When it is hot during a winter morning, you get worried about the upcoming summer. I wonder if I will end up writing about sunstroke come April-May.

When I reached my office, one pedestrian pathway was blocked. As I crossed and walked through the opposite pathway, I noticed that where there used to be trees, there were mere stubs of wood. As for my usual path, earlier there used to be a canopy of trees that always brought shade and a cool breeze. Now, it was completely destroyed. There were about ten people chopping off the fallen trees to carve out a path and hence we were asked to walk through the different path. It was evident that the maintenance people were hard at work since morning because there is no way the roads inside the campus would have been so clear post the cyclone, what with all the trees and shrubs we used to have. While the shrubs were relatively alright, many trees went missing post the cyclone.

From my friends, I heard that there was water logging in some areas because the drainage system was blocked by things that were blown up by the wind. Huts were blown off. There was property damage. In some people’s houses, the windows and wooden doors were broken. Some had their washing machines broken (many people keep their washing machines in the balcony). Some did not get any signal on their phones and were unable to communicate with anyone.

The airport was closed for a day. My friend’s wife who was supposed to return from the US on the day of the cyclone ended up in Sri Lanka. Without any means to contact anyone, the poor guy who went to the airport to receive her, stood waiting for hours together till he got wind of the news. Another friend landed in Bangalore and had a tough time getting home. Trains were not functional for a day and only a few buses were running, making daily commute difficult.

Few people joked that we should declare the month of December a holiday because there seems to be some natural calamity always occurring during the month. I could only recall the Tsunami years back, the flood last year and now the cyclone, so I didn’t see how we had a calamity every year, but I kept mum. Many people said that they didn’t have any impact except power cut and phone connectivity issue, but they were all bored out of their wits and didn’t know what to do without electricity. In contrast, I actually liked staying at home – perks of being an introvert. All the quiet and peace did me good.

Checking the news I realized how massive the destruction of trees was. Trees in dense areas had rubbed against each other and burnt off in the friction. The news anchor then interviewed some expert who said that the composition of the cyclone air made the trees burn easily. I didn’t really care much about the reasons, I was just too upset that thousands of trees were now no more and we all carried on with our lives like nothing happened. People were actually whining about power cut when there were human lives lost and thousands of trees dead.

I agree that a power cut can make day to day life difficult. While the power at my house was restored in two days, in some places it took up to a week. To name a few things, a week without electricity means sleepless nights, mosquitos, trouble finding water for daily necessities and trouble getting drinking water. Some guys had stayed over in the office. Some came earlier to office in order to shower. Some filled water bottles to take home because stores ran out of bottled drinking water.

Some people who had power backup at home and had no major impact other than lack of phone signal claimed that this was not really a disaster and that bugged me. Others who got back their power in a day or two also seemed to shrug off the problem saying it is not as bad as the flood last year. Sure, in last year’s flood, we lost many human lives, and it was definitely a disaster of a bigger scale than the current one. That does not mean that we should neglect the impact of this year’s cyclone.

We already have less rain than needed. We are in constant need for water, especially in summer. With the death of thousands of trees, why are we not worried about a possible drought? Let us all do our part in helping our environment. Let us plant tree saplings in our neighbourhood and consistently take care of them.

Don’t have space in your backyard and lawn? Plant trees in roads. Don’t know how and where to start? Volunteer in an NGO that holds tree plantation events. Living in a small apartment and can’t find space to grow plants? Just browse and you can find a lot of DIY projects and ideas to grow plants in small spaces. Consider growing at least one indoor plant per room. While you are at it, you could also try air purifying plants and do away with air purifying machines. You could also talk to your apartment association and grow a terrace garden. Lack gardening skills and/or lazy? There are plants that are hard to kill and don’t require much maintenance. Where there is a will, there is a way.

It is said that we do not inherit the earth from our parents, we borrow it from our children. While we try to secure our children’s future by saving money and providing a good education, we do not care about how the environment would be impacted when they grow up. Let us make sure that our children get to breathe clean air and drink pure water by doing our part.

5 thoughts on “Chennai Cyclone Experience”

  1. A great write up! Recounting this makes me shiver the same way I shivered in terrace during the cyclone. The conclusion is so beautiful esp that we borrow earth from our children. What a perspective!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. The formidable nature of nature in those dark days. Inspires me to write my own thoughts and experience. Very Well written and I hope to read your posts periodically.

    Liked by 1 person

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