Thiruvananthapuram: In the eye of a storm over his government's alleged failure in acting on time to issue proper warning to fishermen about Cyclone Ockhi, Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan on Wednesday stuck to his earlier stand that the official cyclone alert was received at 12 noon on November 30.
Addressing a press conference held after the cabinet meeting, the CM said, “No warning was received on November 28. An alert asking fishermen not to venture out to the sea was issued at 2.30pm on November 29. The cyclone alert was received only at 12 noon on November 30.”
“The state government did not receive any warning via email or phone call. The IMD website carried an alert asking fishermen not to venture out to sea,” he added. Heavy rain and strong winds, triggered by Cyclone Ockhi, had battered the coastal villages killing at least 33 people. Several fishermen, who had ventured out into the sea, were yet to return.
However, he did not explain whether the officials were lax in reacting to the IMD website warnings.
A controversy had erupted after the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) and the ministry of earth sciences said that the Kerala government was warned on November 29, a day before Ockhi struck the state.
'Unprecedented natural calamity'
The CM termed Cyclone Ockhi as an unprecedented natural calamity. Insisting that there was no lapse from the part of the state government, Pinarayi said, "We did not even waste one minute after receiving the alert. Even the central ministers did not make any such allegations."
However, the IMD has a different story to tell. It said several warnings were issued to the Kerala government before it hit the coast. The central agency's director at Thiruvananthapuram, S Sudevan, said warnings were given to the State Disaster Management Authority (SMDA) and top officials a day before the cyclone hit the state's coastline. The IMD called the Kerala officials repeatedly during the day and night and also sent text messages, he insisted.
They were specifically told to prevent fishermen from venturing out to the sea as strong winds were expected. Three fax messages were sent to the chief secretary's office on the night of November 29, detailing the direction of the wind.
Sudevan claimed that the IMD has enough evidence to prove that it acted promptly. Any document sought for a probe will be submitted, he said.
However, the CM has not clarified on this.
Apart from the local center's calls and messages, Kerala had also received messages directly from Delhi, the official said.
Sudevan pointed out that Tamil Nadu government responded to the warnings on the night of November 29 itself, and declared a holiday for schools for the next day. He wondered why authorities in Kerala could not realize the gravity of the warnings.
He said the IMD provides weather alerts to different agencies under the state government every day as a routine. The November 29 alert clearly said the intensity of the wind would be high and hence fishermen should not go out to the sea.
The directors of fisheries and ports were alerted by text messages to issue this warning to the fishing community. A staff member of the SMDA was also contacted on the phone on November 29 night and the information was passed on. Sudevan declined to name the person, but sought to know why no one took the messages seriously.
According to secretary of ministry of earth sciences M Rajeevan, Kerala government was alerted on November 29 that the sea will get very rough along the Kerala coast.
“The officials at the meteorological center in Thiruvananthapuram had also informed those concerned in the state government over the phone,” he added.
The first message that the fishermen from Tamil Nadu and south Kerala should not venture out into the sea was given at 11.50am on November 29, he said.
Since it was not sent as an ordinary weather report but as a special bulletin, the onus was on the Kerala government to take necessary precautionary measures.
The bulletins contained satellite images of the depression. The warning messages were conveyed to the chief secretary of Kerala and the chief administrator of Lakshadweep.
Along with the first alert a wind alert was also issued saying the coast long southern Tamil Nadu and southern Kerala likely to experience wind at a speed of 65 kmph.
The second alert was issued at 2.15 pm on November 29, saying the depression has reached 360km east-south of Kanyakumari and moving in the west-north direction. The depression will gain strength in 24 hours and heavy rain likely in southern Tamil Nadu and southern Kerala. (The alert for wind, sea conditions and fishermen repeated).
Third alert was issued at 7.15 pm on November 29, saying the depression located 340 km south-east of Kanyakumari will move west and is likely to gain strength in the 24 hours.
Again at 8.30am on November 30, another alert said the depression located 170 km south-east of Kanyakumari and will develop into a cyclone in 12 hours. However, the Kerala CM says the IMD talked about the cyclone at 12 noon on November 30.