Written by MAYURA JANWALKAR | Published: June 8, 2020 2:42:22 am
The damage caused by the cyclone. (Photo: Deepak Joshi)
Parts of the asbestos roof of Malati Chunekar’s two-story home by the Jivna Bunder fishing jetty in Shrivardhan are patched with plastic sheets. The blue sheets have replaced pieces of the metal blown away by squally winds brought by Cyclone Nisarga that on June 3 made landfall near the sleepy town known for its pristine beaches.
“We could hear the winds – whoosh, whoosh – long before the cyclone came. The rooftops, the windows started rattling. I was so scared by that deafening sound that I could not dare to open my eyes,” says the fisherwoman in a magenta nine-yard sari.
The Chunekars’ residence offers an unobstructed view of the Arabian Sea and the coast of Shrivardhan. On June 3, however, from their house with the enviable view, the Chunekars were among the few who saw the severe cyclonic storm Nisarga, which had been forming over the Arabian Sea for 124 hours, arrive in all its fury.
“It was dark and smoky all day. The winds were blowing at speeds like never before. It lasted about an hour to an hour-and-a-half. Then we saw it over the sea. It looked like a large spinning top,” says Malati’s husband Kashinath Chunekar.
The fishing jetty is devoid of both people and boats that were pulled ashore after the cyclone warning was issued. Right outside the Maharashtra Maritime Board office, however, one lies crushed under a banyan tree, next to a coconut tree that is bent like it was being folded in half.
Janardan Waghe and his eight-year-old son Bhavik are by themselves at the jetty trying to catch small fish for lunch. Bhavik waits with the empty woven bag he had brought to collect the catch, as his father throws his fishing net in the water for the third time in vain. “What we saw was beyond our imagination. The winds just blew away the rooftops of our homes. Splintered roofs hovered in the wind like butterflies,” says Janardan.
In the municipal school near the jetty, around 300 people who were evacuated ahead of the cyclone continue to stay put in addition to those who had to move there after their homes were wrecked. The classrooms are now filled with LGP cylinders, utensils, beddings and cries of babies. “Everything was scattered by the winds. We just picked up whatever utensils we could gather. We don’t even know if they are ours or someone else’s,” says Govind Kalekar, who has moved into the school with his family.
Even as road connectivity to the main highways in Raigad was restored a day after Nisarga struck, roads in the interiors, connecting one village to another, were still being rid of displaced trees, branches and scree.
On the Bagmandla road that leads to four villages, debris was being removed by the State Disaster Rescue Force (SDRF) men in orange, who had been sawing heavy tree branches to clear the roads all day. S M Kedar, the Talathi of Maral-Bagmandla, said that the men had been sawing fallen barks and branches since sunrise and nobody was keeping a count of how many were removed.
With power sub-stations and electricity polls destroyed, several parts of Raigad have been relegated to the dark. In Shrivardhan, telecommunication has been hamstrung with some cellular services available intermittently.
Shrivardhan Sub-Divisional Officer (SDO) Amit Shetye says, “Our priority is to clear all the roads first. The connectivity to the main highway was restored the very next day, however, some internal roads had to be cleared, which is being done continuously.”
While inverters and generators have been used to light up some places like government offices, power lines in Shrivardhan should be resurrected in a fortnight, said officials.
An official of the Maharashtra State Electricity Board (MSEB) sat atop a tiled roof detangling and snapping electric cables from a pole that had descended on it. Ninad Kawle, assistant engineer with the MSEB, says they have been through at least 250 such poles in Shrivardhan since June 3. The cables, he adds, were being preserved for when the poles are re-erected.
Electricity poles avulsed from the ground and trees wedged into roofs are a common sight across Raigad. On state highways, in neighbouring talukas of Mangaon and Mhasla, too, Nisarga left the same trail of destruction.
Beyond the Bagmandla road lay the downhill villages of Karivne and Bauddhawadi, which after nearly four days of being incommunicado, were reaching out to people outside.
Mayur Pawar, a resident of Virar who was back in his village after the lockdown, drove in his four-wheeler to make an SOS call on behalf of his village. “We have not been able to reach anyone in the last four days. No government official was able to visit us because the roads were blocked. There is a lot of damage to our village,” he says.
Abhijeet Mane, the gram sevak of the village, had arrived in Karivne on Saturday on his two-wheeler. “There are 126 homes in this village. I have drawn up a list of relatives of all the families who stay in Mumbai, which I will take back to the tehsildar office. We will inform their relatives that they are all right,” he says.
Perhaps the starkest testimony to the wrath of Nisarga stands in Shrivardhan’s Vetalwadi. The formidable Banyan tree that even the elders had grown up watching, is left bearing its roots, split down the middle, resembling the mangled carcass of an animal devoured by a mightier beast. Had it survived another day, it would have been worshipped by married women on Vat Purnima, the full moon day on which Maharashtrian Hindu women pray for their husbands’ long life by tying a tread around the tree’s bark.
Shrivardhan is now a swarm of perhaps lakhs of fallen trees, some heaving with fruit – mangoes, coconuts, bananas, jackfruits – but rubbing their face in the soil, some uprooted, others hunched.
Mushtaq Satvilkar owned mango and coconut orchards behind his house on which an electricity pole had fallen. “For the first time, I may have to go to the market to buy a coconut. Shrivardhan was famous for its trees, its greenery and its beaches. This is what attracted tourists. Tourism was hit by the lockdown and now the greenery is gone too,” he says.
As an immediate relief measure, Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray had announced a Rs 100-crore relief package for Raigad. Raigad MP Sunil Tatkare said that the Centre’s help may also be sought. On Sunday, Food and Civil Supplies Minister Chhagan Bhujbal announced that the government will provide free kerosene to families living without electricity.
Meanwhile, the district administration, the NDRF, the SDRF, the municipal council and the people are doing their part to help Shrivardhan dust itself up, albeit slowly, without electricity and Internet. The relief measures may take their time but the people cannot. As much as they hope for swift government intervention, they say, the monsoon is fast approaching and they have a town to rebuild.
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