BY Gods grace,everyone is safe and the cyclone threat has passed, said Srikakulam District Collector Saurabh Gaur,rather modestly,on Sunday. But he,and the rest of the district administration,played a considerable role as well. Gaur oversaw one of the biggest evacuation operations ever undertaken in Andhra Pradesh,with over 90,000 people shifted from coastal villages of the district to safe shelters within 30 hours.
And,it was not a job done haphazardly. The Srikakulam district administration ensured that each of the 49 cyclone shelters had enough stocks of rice,dal,cooking oil and other essential commodities to last a week. All these were in place,along with an officer in charge of the shelter,by 3 pm on Saturday,six hours before the cyclone made landfall in neighbouring Orissa.
This ensured there were no casualties,although Srikakulam fell within the 150-km radius of the area where Cyclone Phailin made landfall.
A lot of micro-planning went into this. Technology,mobile connectivity,standard operating procedures that were set in place for tsunami and cyclone alerts,and the whole-hearted involvement of government officials who withdrew their Samaikhya Andhra strike and joined the relief efforts helped, said Gaur.
When we received the IMD warning two days back (Friday morning),not a single government official was available on-site to assess the situation to formulate a plan. We drew up lists of villages and categorised them as dangerous,very vulnerable and vulnerable. We used information technology and web-based SMS service,sending text messages to over 10,000 people a day before the cyclone. These messages were in turn passed on to others, said Gaur.
Due to mobile connectivity,we could contact each and every village revenue officer,health worker,local police official and gram panchayat secretary to pass on the warnings. We sent customised messages to individuals,depending on their location. Again,due to quick transmission of messages,police swung into action and forcibly evacuated people from vulnerable villages. We kept updating our website,giving latest information about the cyclone,which helped lower-level government officials to grasp the situation quickly, he added.
While SOPs are there,one needs proper understanding to implement if effectively,said Gaur. We have been able to do right,and by Gods grace everyone is safe, he said.
Mandu Pataiah,30,recognised as Giddalapadus most experienced fisherman,said he tried to stay put as police came to evacuate them,sending away his wife and two children to the cyclone shelter. However,the size of the waves changed his mind. I have been fishing since I was a teenager but I have never seen such huge and violent waves. An autorickshaw hired by others was going to the relief camp and I went with them, he said.
All night,Pataiah had nightmares of the waves,of his house being washed away. But when he returned Sunday,it was intact. My boat is damaged but I cannot complain. The entire village survived. Today is Dussehra and it is not the time to think about what we lost. We are celebrating what we have.
The district administrations in Srikakulam,Vizianagaram and Visakhapatnam have received a number of congratulatory messages for the manner in which they handled the evacuation,rescue and relief efforts.
The level of planning in the districts was such that special officers were equipped with lists of villages,number of families,population of men,women and children,contact numbers of village elders and elected representatives,besides information about the number of vehicles available for their evacuation,names and contact numbers of National Disaster Response Force (NDRF),relief and rescue personnel,understanding of the equipment available,and stocks of foodgrain and essential supplies.
At least 20 LPG cylinders were provided at each relief camp. We designated special officers to ensure procurement and supply of foodgrain,water and diesel generator sets,as well as security at the cyclone shelters, said revenue official Venkat Rao.
Heavy earth-moving machines,bulldozers,ambulances and vehicles with mobile gensets were stationed at strategic locations across the region. So,although the strong winds felled a number of trees,causing roadblocks during the night,most of the roads were cleared by Sunday morning.
After making all efforts possible to evacuate the targeted population,the orders from Saturday 3 pm were to sit tight till the cyclone passed. We made sure that all the people had their lunch and dinner. Children were taken care of,and medicines were distributed where necessary, said veterinary surgeon Kiran Kumar,who was in charge of a camp at Kotabommalli.
When officials learnt that many villagers were returning to their homes before the cyclone,a massive operation was launched on foot,just a few hours before the cyclone struck,to check each and every village and force them to return to the camps.
The level of preparedness to face this cyclone is unparalleled. It helped that we got the IMD warning in advance. But the manner in which the district collectors planned and executed the evacuation and relief operations is commendable, said Minister for Revenue,Relief and Rehabilitation,N Raghuveera Reddy.