Eighteen people were killed in Chennai, Kancheepuram and Tiruvallur in rain-related incidents linked to Cyclone Vardah, officials said on Tuesday. About 50 per cent of the affected areas remained in darkness as at least 10,000 electric poles had fallen and 100 transformers were damaged in the cyclone that made landfall in Tamil Nadu on Monday.
As life remained disrupted at many places on Tuesday, the state government announced closure of schools and colleges for the third day on Wednesday.
A minister told The Indian Express that restoring power and getting cash for people would be the major challenges. The cyclone had caused massive damage, he added.
“We have a stock of electric poles and some transformers. We (have) made arrangement to get more transformers from Karnataka,” said the minister.
About 30 per cent electricity was restored by Tuesday afternoon as hundreds of Tamil Nadu Electricity Board workers worked overtime.
The cyclone, which toppled five trucks, has thrown ATMs out of gear, adding to the problems of people trying to get on with their lives. “Almost all the ATMs in the city remained dead on Tuesday evening. Banks said they have been helpless for more than a week as there is hardly any currency for supply,’’ said an official, who spoke to banks seeking immediate restoration of ATM services.
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“Private banks with excess currency have only limited number of ATMs or branches. Even in places where power has been restored, ATMs remain closed as there is no cash and service networks to run the machines.’’
C Saravanan, a social worker mobilising people for relief works, said it was the time to accept the foolishness of demonetisation. “We have been facing trouble ever since (PM Narendra) Modi rolled out the demonetisation programme. If there were few ATMs opened initially, services were fully stopped after December 1. Now we see that even the state government and police are helpless in mobilising help and materials,’’ he said.
He added that they have no cash to buy food or materials. “No fuel stations are accepting debit or credit cards and (there is) no cash to buy fuel to run woodcutting equipment or heavy vehicles engaged in the relief works,’’ he said. “Not even those upscale restaurants in the city are accepting cashless services as their card swiping machines are dead too. I could not buy food or bed sheets for the affected. How foolish was his (Modi)’s much celebrated plan.’’
Information Technology Minister M Manikandan said that most telecommunication channels remain disrupted due to major technical damage. “Several cell phone towers fell or were damaged in the strong winds. I am coordinating with various private service providers to restore their services,” he said.
The state-run BSNL cellphone and internet services were unaffected in many places. “Only BSNL services have sustained the disaster. All private service (providers) are still repairing their cellphone towers or struggling to get diesel to run their generators as they did not prepare for it,” said an IT official. He added that the minister was trying to get diesel for generators.
Roads in Chennai were cleared for traffic by Tuesday morning despite massive uprooting of trees as hundreds of municipal workers and police personnel worked through the night. “There were 6,000 fallen trees. All have been removed. Damage to private vehicles is yet to be ascertained,’’ said an official. Almost all train, air and bus services from Chennai have resumed.
When the December 2015 deluge submerged Chennai, ministers and the administration were blamed for lack of preparedness, cold response and putting ‘Amma stickers’ on relief materials and trucks. This time, in contrast, several ministers were seen leading relief efforts in Chennai and suburban areas. Chief Minister O Panneerselvam, senior ministers as well as opposition leader M K Stalin visited the affected areas.