Amid light drizzle and whizzing winds, NDRF personnel who were leading a tractor-trolley ferrying a batch of people from Bavaliya Vistar area to Bhoravad Primary School in Chanch village in Rajula taluka of Amreli district, asked the driver to stop. They got down from the vehicle and went to a roadside home where around a dozen people were seen.
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Soon a police constable and assistant sub-inspector (ASI) Mansukh Solanki joined the NDRF personnel. The ASI asked the group to get on to the tractor-trolley that was on way to a village 2km away. Patabhai Shiyal, the patriarch of the home went to the police and said, “Amey avi jashu. Pan a kukada ane boat nu kaink karva do (We shall join but let us first take care of our poultry and fishing boats),” he said.
ASI asked them to get on to the vehicle, assuring them that their poultry and boats would be taken care of. But the patriarch insisted on securing their only means of livelihood when deputy superintendent of police (DysP) Kushal Oza got down from his car and said: “All of you please get on the trolley. When the storm hits, none of you will get the opportunity to save even your own lives.”
As more policemen came forward to persuade them, Patabhai asked four women of the family to get on to the trolley and leave. “Please allow some time to us. My sons and I will anchor our three boats safely, put the poultry in some enclosure and reach the school on our motorbike,” pleaded Patabhai, a 60-year-old fisherman, to which the DySP agreed.
In the neighbouring household, Dadubhai Jethva was leading his 90-year-old mother Naniben and six-year-old nephew Lalji out of their kuccha house with tiled roof. “I am afraid, a jackal or a dog can kill all of my 60 hens if we abandon them. Stray dogs can harm our three buffaloes also. But these sahebs have ordered us to leave so there is no option,” Jethva said.
Remembering a cyclone that hit the area in 1982, he said, “We spent night in waist-high tidal waters in our homes. Our fishing boat was washed away to Victor port.” “But then, what will happen to our poultry,” the nonagenarian rues before picking up a quilt and setting out for the school on his son’s motorcycle.
State geared up for first major cyclone in 20 years
Vayu is likely to be the first major cyclone to make landfall on Gujarat coast in two decades. Earlier, in 1998 and 1999, two massive cyclones had hit the Kutch and Saurashtra regions, causing a lot of loss to life and property. Decades after, it seems that Gujarat has not only learnt its lessons from the past, but also from Odisha far east, which recently witnessed cyclone Fani. With improved technology and better weather forecast, Gujarat is leaving no stone unturned to keep the damage by the natural calamity minimum. Gujarat has undertaken a massive evacuation operation, with people being forcefully shifted at many places. Also, the advance deployment of central forces, including the Army, IAF and Navy, indicate the promptness of the state to pre-empt loss of life and property due to the cyclone.
Dadubhai’s widowed sister Geeta stays behind to milk three buffaloes that the family raises but said she would shift to the school by late evening.
More than 300 people were camping at Bhoravad Primary School, one of the three government primary schools in the coastal Chanch village, Vijesh Patel, principal of the school, said they served them seasoned khichhdi for lunch. “While we have not got any additional supply or food packets so far, we have enough provision that was stocked for midday meals (MMD). We shall serve them chapatis and subji for dinner,” said Patel who has been serving in the village for 11 years.
While children played cricket in the ground, elderly women were seen cleaning wheat. “We are not scared of the cyclone. But at noon, officers came home and asked us to shift to this school. What else can we do but to follow their instructions,” says Jamna Gujariya, (70), from Bavaliya Vistar.
Gujariya also recalls the 1982 cyclone. “I was in a hospital in Mahuva town (of neighbouring Bhavnagar district) to deliver my daughter Savita when storm hit that day. My home was damaged. So, even though I don’t like to be in this school, I understand officers have shifted us here for our own safety. This is for the first time that someone has come to us to say that there is danger and that we need to shift to safer place,” says Gujariya who was evacuated with six other members of her family.
The principal said that a 4000-litre capacity water tank was filled and they had additional LPG cylinders also. “We have enough number of mats for people to sleep. However, we do not have any backup for power,” he said.
The school has eight classrooms and a principal’s office. Two ASHA workers posted at the school said that there were three pregnant women among the 300-odd people sheltered there and that one of them was more than eight months pregnant. The principal was, however, concerned if the toilet block would be enough for the people sheltered.
Mansukh Shiyal, a 25-year-old fisherman holds his three-year-old son Nirmal while his wife Sharda and mother are helping other women clean grains. “During high tide, water enters the front yard of our home. Though I am a fisherman and not generally afraid of the sea, I am frightened by the prospect that tide can be even higher due to the storm,” he says, adding it was for the first time that he was seeing such a massive operation to shift people to safer places.
Chanch, a village surrounded by sea, in Rajula taluka of Amreli district, has a population of around 10,000, mostly fishermen, salt-pan workers and casual labourers. While Pateda and Chanch areas of the village are on elevated ground, Bavaliya Vistar in Bhoravad area is vulnerable as it is a low-lying area. Many in Pateda area said that they would not to go temporary shelters as they are “completely safe in their houses” on higher grounds. “My home is on much elevated ground than the school. However, high the tides may be, water won’t enter our houses. The school can get flooded and, therefore, I am not going to shift there,” says Chetan Shiyal, a truck driver.
Sharda Vaghela, principal of Chanch Primary School, said, “We are expecting to shelter around 1,000 people. We are told that those living in houses with tiled roofs will be shifted to shelters. We have got 70 bags of weat and 26 bags of rice and have enough stock of grians for midday meals.”
Amreli district collector Ayush Oak said that they evacuated more than 12,000 people in Rajula and Jafrabad talukas. “Around 10,000 more have shifted to their relatives home on their own. Power lines tripped in six feeders and two were shut down as a precaution. Our focus is now on 73 villages along the banks of major rivers in the district as very heavy rainfall is expected. So, our staff is visiting villages along the courses of rivers that were flooded and witnessed wide-scale damage during the flash floods in 2015,” said Oak.
The collector said that people were resisting evacuation in some pockets. “People here do not understand the difference between a cyclone and a thunderstorm or even a pre-monsoon shower and rains induced by a cyclonic storm because we do not experience many cyclonic storms. But our goal is zero human casualty and therefore we had to do forceful evacuation in some pockets,” added Oak.