Cyclone Nivar: When the cycle of misery doesn’t end

An estimated 170 million population living on India's coasts are perennially at the receiving end of tropical storms and cyclones, and are forced to migrate following loss of land and job opportunities

On the morning of November 26, hours after Cyclone Nivar made landfall between Tamil Nadu and Puducherry coast, 45-year-old P Kumar looked out the window to see his modest neighbourhood of Pattalam drowned in a deluge. Heavy rains had started pounding Chennai since the day before.

As his eyes stared down a floating plastic bag, the trail of damage was slowly unveiling — a fallen tea shack here, a damaged electric pole there. The roof of a car had collapsed under the weight of a fallen tree, a tin roof from a nearby house had blown off.

His own house was in knee-deep waters. “The real damages will start to show only after the water recedes completely,” Kumar says, adding that he and his family spent the night mostly awake haunted by the fear of devastation brought by the 2015 floods.

This time around, the blow to families like Kumar’s comes on top of the COVID-19 pandemic that had already left many dead and unemployed across India. With a vast coastline of 7,516 km touching 13 states and Union territories, India over the years has witnessed terrible loss of life and property due to cyclones. Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, West Bengal and Puducherry on the East Coast and Kerala and Gujarat on the West Coast are especially vulnerable to cyclones.

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