On the second day after Cyclone Vardah ravaged the city with high-speed winds, Chennai is slowly gathering its bearings.
Fallen trees and branches that had been flung across arterial roads now lay in clumps along the pavements. Outside residences and offices on Wednesday, leaves, twigs and shards of glass were being swept and piled into garbage bins.
On Monday afternoon, Cyclone Vardah hit the coast of North Chennai near Pulicat with wind speeds reaching up to 110-120 kmph. As citizens huddled indoors, powerful gusts of wind wrecked havoc not only along the coastal city but also in the interior parts of Chennai’s neighbouring districts of Kancheepuram and Tiruvallur. Settlements built with aluminium and asbestos sheets have been ripped apart by the cyclonic storm, causing many poor families to return to damaged homes the next day.
Still no power
For more than 24 hours since, the city had no power. With hardly any cash in hand and the inability to make electronic transactions, the morning after the cyclone was saw citizens with inadequate food and necessary supplies.
By Tuesday night, power was restored to many parts of the city. The Times of India reported that power has been restored to around 60% of the city, but might take two more days for power supply to reach the suburbs.
In a suburban residential area in South Chennai, residents have been repeatedly calling the Chennai Corporation for assistance to remove trees and branches that have fallen across the street. There has been no power here for more than 48 hours.
“The initial response we got from them was that they will concentrate on the main roads, and come here after completing that,” said Anand, a resident of Thoraipakkam.
The residents had to make arrangements to move the trees themselves.
“We needed to clear the trees to allow sewage trucks to empty out the Sewage Treatment Plants in the apartments down the street,” said P Rajan, another resident. “The STPs were close to overflowing.”
In parts of North Chennai too, residents complained that they haven’t had access to water since Monday evening.
“We went to the corporation office. They said they will supply water by tankers,” said Sarala from Tondiarpet, who works as a domestic help.
Lakshmi, another domestic help in Royapettah, said that without electricity, groundwater could not be extracted. “Now we don’t have any water for the entire apartment,” she added.
Unprepared for strong winds
While citizens are still trying to bring order to their lives, it is clear that the corporation did not anticipate the kind of damage that Cyclone Vardah has caused.
A corporation official told Scroll.in that they did not have enough electric saws and other equipment to take care of such huge number of uprooted trees. Consequently, tools had to be brought in from neighbouring districts. The Times of India reported that 1750 workers, 60 earth movers, 200 trucks and 250 power saws were mobilised from panchayats and municipalities surrounding Chennai.
While the Chennai Corporation had made arrangements to prevent flooding, little had been done to prevent damage caused by high-speed winds. Water drained quickly enough in many areas that had been flooded last year, but the prolonged power cut remains a problem.
Electricity board officials said many parts of Chennai still did not have power largely because uprooted trees that had fallen on transmission lines, damaging them severely. Hundreds of electricity transformers had been hit. In certain areas, power has been suspended to avoid accidents. “Unless trees are removed, it is difficult to restore power,” the official said.