Ganesh Kumar had just enough time Tuesday to pack some essentials before his family of four was shifted to the St Mary’s School building at Dahanu in Palghar district along with other villagers on Tuesday. For the next 40 hours, they have to stay put inside the building, a concrete safe house, as ‘Cyclone Nisarga’ surges through the western coastline of the state — a first in this part of the coast.
“In the last 67 days, I have not earned a single paisa due to the coronavirus and the lockdown. Now, I have to leave my house and take refuge in the school with my two daughters and wife,” Kumar, a beach photographer at Satti Padha village, said, adding he was unsure if shifting to a community shelter was a good idea in the times of the pandemic.
Already grappling with the coronavirus outbreak and the lockdown, Palghar villagers have reluctant to shift to shelters even as ‘Cyclone Nisarga’ is expected to make landfall at Alibaug, around 105 km south of Mumbai, on Wednesday afternoon before crossing over to Gujarat. While the district administration has claimed that more than 80 shelters have been set up to ensure social distancing can be maintained at all costs, several villagers were seen shifting to the houses of their relatives in neighbouring districts to avoid sharing closed places with others. The Palghar district has, so far, reported 952 coronavirus cases and 32 deaths. Currently, there are 521 active cases while 399 have been discharged.
On Tuesday, District Collector, Kailash Shinde, said more than 21,000 people from 22 villages of Palghar district have been evacuated. “Our main task was to make sure that villagers did not live in kaccha houses near the coastline. We had set up 86 centers across the district to accommodate 6,10,00 people.”
Near Kumar’s Satti Padha village, a 20-strong team of NDRF was deployed on Dahanu beach to aid the evacuation process while ensuring social distancing, essential to flatten the curve, was maintained by villagers.
Saurav Katiyar, the sub-district magistrate of Dahanu, said, “In Dahanu taluka, arrangement for around 2,000 villagers has been made at six centers, each of which can accommodate over 800 people. This was done to ensure all Covid-19 guidelines are followed.” Five other shelters were set up at K L Ponda School, A J Mhatre School, Lohana Samaj hall, a government hostel at Bordi, and a marriage hall in Dahanu.
While announcements were also made at each village that all precautions were being taken against Covid-19 at the shelters, Katiyar said, “Till 7.50 pm Tuesday, only 20 villagers of Satti Pada had reached St Mary’s School.”
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Rahul Sarang, tehsildar of Dahanu taluka, said most villagers had made their own arrangements and moves to the houses of their relatives away from the coastline and closer to the highway. “Many villagers could be seen leaving in tempos and autorickshaws. Some said they would go to the shelters later at night, as there was no provision for food,” he said.
Seventeen-year-old Mehul Ganesh Pagdhare, a resident of Dahanu village, said he and his family of four were ready to shift to his uncle’s house located near Mumbai-Ahmedabad Highway. “They are not providing food, and have asked us to carry a tiffin box for the night. Only snacks will be arranged for the morning. Why should we go to these centers when we can go to a better place,” Ganesh said.
The IMD has issued a red alert for Mumbai, Thane, Palghar, Raigad, Dhule, Nandurbar and Nashik districts, as ‘Cyclone Nisarga’ is expected to turn into a “severe cyclonic storm” working up wind speed of 100-110 km/hour.
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