April 10 2020
Gone with the wind: no trace left of six hamlets
21 November 2018

Relief measures grossly inadequate, say villagers

R. Jayapal, an agricultural labourer, has witnessed the fury of four cyclones in his life so far. A native of Thalaignaiyuru in Nagapattinam district, an area prone to cyclones, he has been flummoxed by the devastation caused by Cyclone Gaja.

“We have been left with nothing. We are living in a camp as our homes have been destroyed. My family doesn’t even have a mango or tamarind to make fish kuzhambu. All is gone, and I am too old to see another mango tree or tamarind tree bear fruits for the family,” Mr. Jayapal told The Hindu.

Vanished hamlets

A grim picture unfolds as one travels from Velankanni to Thalaignaiyuru.

Once small hamlets, Chadayankottakam, Cherankulam, Karapidakai, Chinthamani, Palattankarai and Ekarajapuram have simply vanished. There is not a single tree that has not borne the cyclone’s brunt. The remnants resemble a broken movie set or an area that has been carpet-bombed. “There is no trace of Palattankarai having existed there,” said Mr. Jayapal.

Except concrete houses, there are hardly any structures that have remained untouched by Gaja in Vedaranyam taluk. Huts were swept off while tiled-roof houses retained only their walls, many of them having crumbled under the weight of trees, coconut palms in particular, and cell phone towers felled by the wind. Its ferocity was such that it chopped the trunk of coconut trees into two or three pieces. Students lost their books and stationeries. Women were cooking on the streets or in camps, while men were mending the roofs of their homes.

Desperation prevails

“Villages on the main thoroughfare caught the attention of officials. We have remained in the dark ever since the night the cyclone changed our lives forever. We do not have drinking water. The entire village is living in camps,” complained N. Sankar of Karapidakai.

Such was their desperation for help that villagers rushed to any passing vehicle and poured out their complaints, believing the passengers to be officials.

As many as 164 of the 170 houses on Santhanam Street in Thalaignayiru have been destroyed. Around 700 residents of the locality — all agricultural labourers — are living in a camp in the Panchayat Union School.

Back to the hut age

“The cyclone has turned the clock back 50 years, and we are facing a situation akin to the period when we had only huts,” said Somu Elango, a social activist from Thalaignayiru.

“The one bag of rice and ₹3,000 per day that the government is providing is inadequate to feed the 700 mouths thrice a day and to buy provisions and firewood,” said Mr. Somu.

Year after year, people were being subjected to nature’s fury, and it was no longer possible for them to get back to living a normal life after Gaja, former Nagapattinam MLA Nagai Mali said. “They need concrete houses. Nothing else will help them start their life all over again,” he said.



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