As the cyclonic weather in the Andamans showed signs of improvement today, around 1,400 tourists stranded in two islands since Monday may be rescued tomorrow, officials said. Ships from both the Navy and the Union Territory’s administration were unable to enter the harbour due to strong winds and choppy seas today.
“There were no rains since morning but the winds were strong. There has been a marginal improvement in the weather and we hope that tomorrow morning, we will be able to bring them back,” an official told reporters.
He said all tourists (numbering around 1,400) are safe and all their needs are being taken care of by the administration. Located about 40 km from here, Havelock and Neil islands are the most popular tourist attractions of Andamans, and the worst affected.
Due to bad weather, transportation to and from the twin islands have been suspended since Monday, but the weather worsened yesterday.
According to the MeT department, the cyclonic storm ‘Vardah’ lied 240 km west-southwest of Port Blair in the Bay of Bengal in the evening, and is very likely to intensify further into a severe cyclonic storm tomorrow and will move northwestwards.
“Sea condition would be rough to very rough along and off Andaman islands and adjoining sea areas during the next 24 hours,” the forecast said, adding that light to moderate rainfall at most places is very likely tomorrow, along with squally winds with a speed reaching 45-55 kmph.
Rescue ships had to return back to Port Blair during the day as none of them could dock at the jetty of the islands.
“A decision has been taken that hotels where tourists are stranded will not take any room rent from them, besides giving them food and water for free,” Deputy Commissioner of South Andamans Udit Prakash Rai said, adding that they will make all arrangements to send tourists back home once they are rescued. The official said there was no report of any loss of life or major damages to property.
However, trees in the islands have been uprooted and electric posts twisted, thus affecting supply of power.
Besides the tourists, 600 of whom are from West Bengal, local population in ten villages of Havelock and Neil islands has been affected due to limited supply of essential commodities.
Soumen Hazra, who works in a restaurant at Havelock, said they had food but cooking gas will run out in the next two days if supplies do not arrive.
Rahul Fernandes, who came on a week-long vacation with five of his friends to the islands complained that they were running out of cash.
“The hotels are asking us to pay bills for food but we have no cash left. The ATMs are all dry,” said the tourist from Mumbai, who is staying at a Havelock hotel since Sunday.
The tourists have been requested to remain in their rooms till weather conditions improve and have also been asked to stay away from coastal areas.
The administration has asked all tour operators not to take any tourists towards north and middle Andaman as a precautionary measure.
Lt Governor Jagdish Mukhi is closely monitoring the situation. All the emergency operation centres across the islands are functioning round the clock and are on high alert.
Meanwhile, Air India and Indigo have waived cancellation and refund charges for travel to and from Port Blair.
An Air India spokesperson said in Kolkata that flight operations by the airlines was normal today.
He said penalties for re-issuance, date change, no-show, cancellation and refund charges for travel to and from Port Blair were waived on all tickets issued to the stranded tourists on or before December 7 for travel during the period December 6 to 9.
In a statement, Indigo said they have waived all cancellation and change fees for passengers flying to and from Port Blair between December 7 and 8.