Saturday, January 7, 2012

The cyclone brought tragedy but also grace and unity

Hundreds of  'folded' electricity posts
The cyclone brought tragedy but also grace and unity
January 6, 2012
Auroville saw widespread destruction due to Cyclone Thane. Fortunately no lives were lost.
'To live 'normally' again will take weeks, but fortunately our area, which includes 7 villages, witnesses no death, not even a serious injury.
But Auroville forests will take decades to recover. They were our pride and protection against the South Indian heat, they are no more!' 

Claude Arpi on the devastation in Auroville after Cyclone Thane.

We were getting ready for a New Year like any other.
A Korean poetry evening was scheduled at the Pavilion of Tibetan Culture, it should be interesting I thought, but our energy and thoughts were mainly focused on the preparation of the New Year Eve's Mandala of Lights attended each year by hundreds of people from Auroville and Pondicherry.
It was always the last 'spiritual' appointment of a year (with a visit to Matrimandir), often preceeding a more secular evening (or jumping into one's bed for older people, like me).
On the 29th morning, we heard that a cyclone was supposedly heading towards Pondicherry, but over the years, we had seen so many of them!
When the staff of our workshop asked if the next day was 'leave', we answered: "Who says that the cyclone will cross tonight? You know very well that most of the time, we only see their tails. Don't they always change direction a few hundred kilometres before reaching the coast and head north, to Andhra Pradesh or more often to West Bengal and Burma?"
The conclusion was peremptory: "No 'leave' for now, if the cyclone comes, then we will see and 'leave' will then be obvious."
Very early that night, it became 'obvious'.
As the velocity of the wind kept increasing, more and more violent rains coming in close waves began battering houses and nature. Our room on the first floor, probably more exposed, was soon flooded: At about 3 am, a plastic protection on the door to the terrace was ripped apart and flew away.
I must say that we were unable to realise at the time the extent of damage that the cyclone Thane (apparently, Burmese meteorologists named the cyclone Thane which means 'Eagle') was going to inflict on Pondicherry and Cuddalore district where Auroville is located.

It was not like any other cyclone we had seen in 40 years
At about 4 am, I began to receive SMSes: "How are you?", "It's pouring in our house, what about you?" It was not very comforting to know that everybody in Auroville was awake at this early hour.
At 6 am, as dawn came, the wind was stronger than ever (according to newspapers received three days later, the winds reached 150 or 180 km/hour). I must say that nobody came out to measure it.
It was not until 7 am that I decided to venture out of the house to say hello to my neighbours who have a sweet one-year old daughter. I began to understand that the 'Eagle cyclone' was not like any other cyclone that we had experienced during the last 40 years.
To cross the few metres separating our house from the neighbour's, it took me nearly ten minutes; I just could not find my way, as the ground was strewn with huge branches of our banyan as well as of neem and bauhinia trees.
Later in the morning, when the neighbours began to organise themselves (we were fortunate to have in our settlement one of the best chain-saw experts in Auroville), we began to understand the magnitude of the disaster.
To progress less than 200 metres, to reach the gate of our Dana community, it took more than four hours despite the determined team of 'Danaistes' working hard to open up the road.
Only later we learned that a similar scenario had repeated itself everywhere in Auroville and the surrounding villages.
A grace: Mobile phones (at least BSNL) continued to work. Quickly, we took stock of the extent of the devastation, but the fact that there was no announced injury or death (relayed through our mass bulletin on the smart phones), led us to expect a relatively happy end. This put a little balm on our hearts.

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