Updated: May 18, 2021 10:17:12 am
Jeevan Shiyal, a young fisherman, sat frustrated in the lobby of Parekh and Mehta High School in the coastal Jafrabad town in Amreli district on the Saurashtra coast Monday afternoon. Inside, in one of the rooms, his wife Shobha sat on a mattress spread on the floor, breastfeeding their six-month-old son Rohit. Besides her sat Jeevan’s elderly mother Devuben holding packets of gathiya snacks and boondi.
As other children in the room chewed the same, Jeevan, 24, a fisherman, fretted: “This is all we are getting since yesterday evening. But I’m afraid if Shobha eats this, she will fall sick. Where shall I take her in this time of Covid-19?”
Outside the school, converted into a cyclone shelter on Sunday, government and police officials were the only ones out on the streets. The important fishing harbour of Jafrabad stood still, battered by rain all of Monday and waiting in trepidation for Tauktae, the cyclone amended to ‘super severe’ category and expected to sweep Saurashtra later in the day.
The India Meteorological Department had predicted that the cyclone would make landfall between Porbandar town in Porbandar ditrict and Mahuva in Bhavnagar district, with Junagadh, Gir Somnath and Amreli districts, lying in between, expected to bear the brunt of it. The authorities moved 21,509 people in all to safer places in the area, either to shelters or homes of relatives, evacuating villages located up to 7 km inland.
“Around a thousand people have been evacuated in Jafrabad, from the Lal Batti and Samakantha areas facing the sea. We have evacuated even those living in pucca houses since, as directed by the state government, we have to ensure not a single life is lost due to the cyclone,” Charu Mori, chief officer of the Jafrabad municipality, said.
Mori admitted evacuation in the town, with a population of around 25,000, was not easy. “It is difficult to persuade people to move to shelters, leaving their homes and belongings behind.”
At the shelter, Jeevan protested, “The government should allow at least one male member of every family to go back so that he can cook and bring food. The least they can do is allow us to go out and buy some wafers.” However, all the shops too were shut Monday.
Jeevan’s elder brother Kana said they were ordered out in such a hurry that he left a pot of vegetables cooking on the stove. “Policemen lathicharged me, ordering me into a rickshaw. I didn’t mind the beating, as I knew they were just trying to save us. But we want something hot to eat, we can’t eat just sweet things.”
Vimal Agrawal, principal of the government-aided school, said 84 people had been brought to the school on Sunday evening and 408 more Monday afternoon.
Putting the total number of people shifted in Jafrabad taluka at 17,000, Kashyap Dabhi, Sub-Divisional Magistrate of Rajula division of Amreli, said people in shelters had been given food packets till Monday afternoon, before their numbers surged. He promised a hot meal in the evening, with the help of NGOs and corporates.
Among those who chose to brave the storm rather than move to a shelter was Uga Shiyal. Holed in the cabin of his fishing trawler with some other fishermen at the Jafrabad harbour, Shiyal said, “It’s not that I feel safe here. But I have to take care of my boat.” An official release said 621 fishing boats had returned to the Amreli coast and had been secured in harbours.
By 6 pm, power supply was affected in most of Jafrabad. Paschim Gujarat Vij Company Limited, which distributes power in Saurashtra and Kutch regions, said electricity supply was disrupted in 203 villages of Saurashtra.
Around 8 pm, after the cyclone finally hit Amreli coast, it was followed by a complete blackout, except for lights flickering in hospitals and at petrol pumps. Dozens of trees along the highway were uprooted, leaving several trucks stranded.
On a positive note, till reports last came in, there were no reports of any casualties.
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