Over 3,200 people were evacuated from 29 coastal villages in Surat district as cyclone Ockhi headed towards south Gujarat on Tuesday. According to the Met department, the cyclone is expected to make landfall in Surat district on Tuesday midnight.
The latest IMD forecast (5.30 pm, Tuesday) stated that the cyclone, which was now turned into a deep depression, lay centred in east central Arabian Sea, 240 km from Surat, causing high speed winds and rain across Gujarat and adjoining Maharashtra. It said that the depression was moving at a speed of 18 kmph for the last six hours.
With the Met department warning that wind gust measuring up to 70 kmph will hit south Gujarat during landfall, the district administration requested people to not venture out. Dharmapuri in south Gujarat received a maximum rainfall of 25 mm on Tuesday. The other districts experiencing a wet spell are Botad, Aravalli, Chhota Udepur, Dahod, Mahisagar, Sabarkantha, Navsari and Rajkot. The wet spell is likely to continue for the next couple of days.
Pankaj Kumar, Principal Secretary of Gujarat Revenue Department, said the administration has deployed two NDRF teams in Surat and one each in Navsari, Valsad, Bhavnagar and Amreli. “A deep depression is building, but the good news is that the intensity of the cyclone is reducing as it heads towards Surat. We are expecting moderate to heavy rainfall in various parts of Gujarat. The government has formed a crisis management group to deal with such situation.
The Air force, Army, Navy, Coast Guard, BSF — all have been put on alert,” he added. Work was also afoot to shift 7,000 agariyas (salt-pan workers) in Bharuch and Valsad district. Till Tuesday afternoon, over 13,000 fishing boats had returned to the coast. Schools and colleges in Surat have been asked to remain closed on Wednesday as a precautionary measure. Construction work at 510 sites in Surat have also been stopped.
Chief Minister Vijay Rupani, who flew down to Surat from Rajkot, leaving aside his election campaign, said there was nothing to worry. “We are working hard to minimise the loss caused by the cyclone. It is a fight between natural calamity and human labour, and we have to remain alert. We have given final touches to our preparations. All the government officials will remain on their toes for the entire night. Control rooms have been opened at taluka and district levels in the coastal areas,” Rupani said on his arrival in Surat. He was accompanied by Pankaj Kumar and Chief Secretary J N Singh, who had earlier held a video conference with all the district collectors of coastal districts to review preparations.
With the first phase of Assembly elections scheduled for December 9, the Election Commission asked the state government to file a detailed report on the “proactive action” initiated by it with regard to cyclone Ockhi. “This has been done to see that the voters are not put at any inconvenience when they go out to vote,” said Chief Electoral Officer of Gujarat B B Swain. The chief secretary has been asked to send the report by 3 pm on Wednesday.
About 35 of the total 89 seats that goes to polls in phase-I are located in south Gujarat districts of Narmada, Bharuch, Surat, Tapi, Dangs, Navsari and Valsad, where the cyclone is expected to disrupt life.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Narendra Modi appealed to BJP workers to extend a helping hand to those that would be likely hit by the cyclone. Modi also said that he is constantly monitoring the situation in various parts of the country. “Spoke to all relevant authorities and officials. All possible assistance is being provided to those affected,” he tweeted.
Union Health Minister J P Nadda also spoke to health ministers of Gujarat and Tamil Nadu, assuring them of all help from the Centre for dealing with the possible damage caused by the cyclone.
In Surat, Chief Secretary Singh said, the entire government machinery is on its toes to help Surat. “The construction and industrial areas have been alerted, and they are in contact with the local administration. Those fishermen who were in deep sea have been brought back, and the district officials have sent warning instruction to fishermen not to venture deep into the sea, till further information,” Singh said.
“In Ahmedabad, the situation seems nothing to worry about as of now. Teams from the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation are on alert in cases the situation goes out of control,” said Ahmedabad Collector Avantika Singh.
A press note issued by the Gujarat Information Bureau stated that the state government has taken steps to ensure groundnuts were purchased from farmers at support price ahead of the cyclone and kept in storage to avoid any damage. Over six lakh sacks of groundnuts have been kept in storage, it stated.
The doctors are expecting a spike in respiratory diseases and have advised children and older people to avoid stepping outside. “There will be an increase in cases of viral infections and respiratory diseases. The rain and the cold together will allow various infections to thrive. We advise people to stay indoors,” said Dr Chirag Shah, a physician in Ahmedabad.