Cyclone Gaja has severely jeopardised the livelihood of fisherfolk in scores of coastal hamlets between Nagapattinam and Pudukottai, as their boats, fishing nets, accessories and homes lie in tatters.
Residents of some coastal hamlets in Nagapattinam district have affirmed that the cyclone was much worse than the tsunami that struck Tamil Nadu in 2004, as it had wrought damage of a much higher scale.
Apart from the damage caused by the high velocity winds, fishing hamlets like Vizhunthamavadi and Pushpavanam were hit by tidal waves, which traversed up to one km from the shore, according to fisherfolk from both villagers. The waves had left behind huge piles of slush on the shore — up to five-feet-deep in some places.
Fishermen had moved their boats and catamarans to locations which they deemed safe. Yet, many of the boats were thrown further deep inland.
“We were warned about the cyclone. But we did not expect the huge waves. Several houses were flooded with hip-deep water. We could not see the height of the wave or the colour of the water in the dark. It was like a tsunami,” said U. Suresh Kumar, a panchayatdar of Vizhunthamavadi.The early warning systems at Vizhunthamavadi and Manalmedu had been sounded an hour before the cyclone hit the coast, and had apparently been misunderstood by some as a tsunami warning.
“All of our families had moved to the community hall the previous evening, and hence, there was no loss of human life. But all of our houses, boats, nets and processing units were heavily damaged,” said M. Muthaiyan, a village elder.
The waves had hit deep inside the coastal hamlets, which were devoid of protective groynes. About 10 villages between Kameswaram and Kodiyakarai had been badly affected, villagers said.
In Pushpavanam, 123 fibre boats, two mechanised boats, 13 catamarans, fishing nets and accessories were damaged. Seventy-two fibre boats, 18 catamarans, some mechanised boats and accessories were damaged in Vizhunthamavadi. The villagers urged the authorities to help them clear the slush and also build a groyne to prevent erosion and incursions in the future.
The fisherfolk claimed that a single fibre boat with engines and accessories cost them ₹18 lakh. “Even if there is a small hole, the fibre boats will be rendered useless,” Mr. Suresh Kumar said.
Livelihood at stake
Normal life of the fisherfolk has ground to an abrupt halt. As of now, they have set up community kitchens to feed entire villages. Apart from the supply of essential commodities from the government, they depend on donors to keep the community kitchens going. “We do not know when we will be able to resume fishing. We have not ventured into the sea for nearly 15 days already. Unless the government comes to our aid in a big way, we will not be able to resume our trade,” said S. Ramesh, a resident of Pushpavanam.
Expressing disappointment over the quantum of compensation announced by the government, the fisherfolk have decided to stay away from the sea. “Fibre boats have been badly damaged in the cyclone. Many mechanised boats have been fully or partially damaged. But the government has offered compensation of just ₹80,000 per fibre boat at 2004 rates, which is unacceptable. We have decided not to venture into the sea until the government announces compensation that would enable us to resume our livelihood,” said S.N. Mohandas of Akkarapettai.