Tamil Nadu Chief Minister K Palaniswami on Tuesday visited the districts hit by Cyclone Gaja, distributed relief materials among the affected people and said he would meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi later this week to seek central assistance.
Even as life was limping back to normal five days after the cyclone that left 46 people dead, a fresh spell of rain hit parts of the Cauvery delta region, hampering relief work since this morning.
The weather office has forecast heavy rains in the region under the influence of a well-marked low pressure in the southwest of Bay of Bengal.
The rains also forced Palaniswami to cut short his tour of the ravaged districts as the inclement weather prevented his helicopter from landing in Nagapattinam and Tiruvarur.
Cyclone Gaja crossed the coast near Vedaranyam in Nagapattinam district, about 300 km from Chennai, with a speed of up to 120 kmph last Friday, leaving a trail of destruction in over 10 districts in the southern part of the state.
A political slugfest broke out over the pace of relief work, with the DMK slamming the chief minister on Tuesday for his “delayed” visit and Palaniswami questioning the timing of the Opposition attack, urging them to bury political differences and join the relief activities.
Palaniswami, accompanied by ministers, including deputy chief minister O Panneerselvam, visited Pudukottai and Thanjavur districts in the morning and asserted that the relief work were being taken on a war-footing.
“I am supposed to meet the prime minister day after tomorrow. Will seek funds from him,” he told reporters in neighbouring Tiruchirappalli after cutting short his tour.
The government will certainly take steps to get central funds and submit details of the damage with proof, he said.
Palaniswami said the cyclone had badly hit both rural and urban areas, and noted that the due to the precautionary steps taken, the impact had been reduced to some extent.
The chief minister, who arrived in Tiruchirappalli from Chennai by a flight, travelled by an IAF helicopter to Pudukottai and Thanjavur, while Nagapattinam — the worst affected district — and Thiruvarur were also in his itinerary.
Earlier, at Pudukottai, he lashed out at Opposition criticism of the government’s handling of the situation, saying they should take the cue from neighbouring Kerala.
Citing the recent devastating floods in Kerala, Palaniswami said the Opposition there raised no issues then, though it took about a month for the relief activities to be completed.
He asked the Opposition parties to bury political differences and contribute towards the relief activities, adding all should go by their conscience and do their bit in helping the affected people.
Stalin hit back at Palaniswami, asking what the chief minister was doing for the last five days. “He should have visited the affected places immediately. Rather, he was attending a grand government function in Salem (on Friday). Questions were raised why he had not gone there… Out of fear, he went on the fifth day today,” he told reporters in Chennai.
The DMK chief also accused Palaniswami of distributing relief materials only to the ruling party members, a charge countered by the chief minister.
Palaniswami said he could visit the affected areas only after ascertaining the extent of damage, besides rolling out the relief and rehabilitation efforts.
On the people’s anger over alleged tardy relief works in some places, he said it was due to the government’s precautionary measures that loss of lives had been minimised.
No one can predict the magnitude of a natural phenomenon and Gaja has left a huge trail of destruction, the chief minister said, adding that the government was taking steps on a war-footing to address the people’s issues.
Earlier, Palaniswami inspected some coconut groves devastated by the cyclone in Thanjavur district and also distributed relief materials, including rice and other essential articles, to the affected people.
At Pattukottai, he distributed Rs 30 lakh as compensation to a woman, who lost all her three sons in a wall collapse in the wake of the cyclone. The state government had announced a Rs 10-lakh solatium to the kin of those killed in the cyclone.
An estimated 40 lakh coconut trees alone have been damaged, he said.
Meanwhile, Union minister Pon Radhakrishnan visited Thiruthuraipoondi in Thiruvarur districts and assured to apprise the central government of the extensive damage caused by the cyclone.
A report from Nagapattinam said several areas in the district, including Vedaranyam and Sirkazhi, were experiencing intermittent heavy rains, affecting the relief operations.
Protests by the public were reported in some places over supply of drinking water and restoration of electricity supply.
On Monday, Palaniswami took stock of the situation at a high-level meeting in Chennai and announced an immediate cash assistance totalling Rs 8,800 to each family sheltered in relief camps, besides 10-kg rice and four litres of kerosene.