Although Tamil Nadu Forest Minister Dindigul C Sreenivasan raised many eyebrows Tuesday with his demand to the Centre to airdrop electric poles in areas devastated by Cyclone Gaja using choppers and flights, restoring power networks damaged in the cyclone remains a daunting challenge for the state.
According to the Tamil Nadu Generation and Distribution Corporation Limited (TANGEDCO), around 1.34 lakh electric poles were damaged and 65 people were killed after the cyclone struck delta districts in the early hours of November 16. According to the corporation, while power has been restored in most of the major towns and residential localities in affected areas, restoration efforts in interior and remote areas remain a challenge due to difficulty in transportation of logistics — concrete poles and other insulation material.
A chief engineer at the corporation’s distribution wing, in-charge of overseeing operations in the cyclone-hit areas, said 54,688 electric poles have been restored in the worst-affected Thanjavur, Pudukottai, Thiruvarur and Nagapattinam districts. “A total of 20,408 workers are engaged in restoring the remaining electric poles in interior areas, including 4,600 employees of Tamil Nadu Electricity Board (TNEB) and 1,789 workers sent by electricity boards in Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Kerala,” said a chief engineer-rank officer camping at Nagapattinam, the most-affected among the four districts.
What made the situation worse in the delta regions was the lack of geographical obstructions in plain farm lands, unlike in urban and hilly areas, with coconut trees being the only hurdle to wind speeds, according to S Gandhi, a power sector expert. “When there is a high wind force, swinging of live wires connecting these poles makes them more vulnerable and they fall,” Gandhi said.
A senior official at the corporation said, “We had a stock of 48,000 electric poles in our various TNEB divisions… We mobilised all of them besides procuring over 80,000 more from regular suppliers in the state.”
“Restoring the same pole was possible in few areas, but we had to transport new ones for most of the areas… So the work was double, workers had to dismantle them first, and then install the new one again… insulators also have to be fixed on each pole which links the live wire with the conductors,” said a distribution wing official monitoring work in Pudukottai, which witnessed the the worst damage to power networks after Nagapattinam.
“Our workers are working without a single day leave from November 16. Most of them are tired, many fell sick, majority are working overtime even today. We fear that there are one or two more weeks to go before we could finish restoring over one lakh poles,” the official said.