Storms cause mayhem, deluge | Sunday Observer

Storms cause mayhem, deluge

3 December, 2017

Cyclone ‘Ochki’ which hit Sri Lanka this week left at least 13 people dead while leaving another 1 missing and over 100,000 people affected. The cyclone lashed the country with heavy rains and strong winds on Wednesday uprooting massive trees and causing islandwide power failures. The severe weather conditions also wrecked havoc disrupting the everyday lives of the public, as schools were declared closed while scheduled term examinations were postponed. Transportation too came to a halt as trees blocked main railway systems leaving commuters stranded.

Leave of all Police officers were cancelled and Triforces were also put on standby for relief efforts. Flood threats were also experienced by several areas particularly around the Nilwala, Gin and Kalu rivers with the National Building Research Organization (NBRO) also issued warnings to landslide risk areas.

Despite warnings of a cyclone issued confusion also reigned among the general populace due to false reports of a storm called ‘Kulal’ entering the country had begun to spread through social media and text messaging. Later declared by the officials to be false.

The government has so far provided compensation of over 72 Million Rupees with promises to assist homeowners of damage residences to rebuild.

Cyclone ‘Ochki’ at the time of writing now lies over 850 Kilometers west away from Sri Lanka its effects on the country is expected to decrease in the coming days. As life returns to normal authorities continue to work towards restoring power to certain areas while railway services to Badulla is also yet to be restored. Roads in certain areas are also being cleared.

However a new tropical threat also continues to form in the South Andaman Sea. Closely watched by the Department of Meteorology foreign news outlets claim that this budding tropical system may prove to be more impactful than Cyclonic Storm Ochki. With the Sri Lankan people are now worried of its possible effects on Sri Lanka these outlets have also predicted a possible renewed risk of floods in Sri Lanka.

Relief on the double...

Rs 72 m for the affected

When Cyclone Ockhi lashed Sri Lanka this week, the Sri Lankan government acted swiftly to provide relief to those affected. With transportation services and electricity services are yet to be restored in certain areas across the island, various government agencies continue to work tirelessly to ensure normalcy to the lives of the general public.

Minister of Disaster Management, Anura Priyadarshana Yapa

Despite the President being on a state visit to South Korea, monitoring the situation in Sri Lanka during the week he directed the Ministry of Disaster Management and the Presidential Secretariat to provide necessary relief to the affected people while also instructing the triforces to be deployed to assist those in need. The President had also on Friday, directed the timber corporation to release their equipment and personnel to assist in clearing out fallen trees.

Calling an emergency meeting chaired by Prime Minister Ranil Wickramasinghe this week, he too instructed that all necessary relief measure should be taken to assist the disaster affected people. Advising officials to restore electricity to all areas the Prime Minister also requested that the repair work on damaged houses should commence at its earliest.

Quick Compensation

While an initial compensation Rs. 10 000 to each family was allocated speaking to the Sunday Observer, Minister of Disaster Management, Anura Priyadarshana Yapa said that over 72 million rupees have been dispensed to pay compensation for the people affected by the inclement weather. It is said it is the fastest ever distribution of compensation in the country’s history.

“The money was given to the most affected areas including Galle and Kalutara totalling to about 6 districts,” the Minister said. According to the Minister, no flood threats were to be expected, since there was no significant rainfall that was recorded within the past 24 hours. Rainfall in the Colombo district was recorded at 40 millimetres, yesterday.

“We are very closely monitoring the situation. if there are further rains our teams are ready with their equipment and boats, islandwide and special attention is given to more vulnerable areas,” he said. Speaking on the precautionary steps that were taken the Minister said that landslide and evacuation warnings have been issued to people to move away from identified high-risk areas.

Addressing the incidents which transpired in the aftermath of the adverse weather which occurred on the 29th he said that although the incidents were small in nature, the number of incidents were high which required more manpower to be utilised.

“Our teams are working on clearing out this rubble. In Colombo, the Colombo Municipal Council is attending to these things whereas, in Kalutara, the teams from the Disaster Management Center (DMC) and Police are attending to the needs of the people.

The Minister went on to say that the Ministry, as well as the DMC together with the Met Department, has been able to commendably react to the situation successfully in a short span of time and that they will continue to monitor. “Ministry and DMC officers are working around the clock keeping a close watch on the developments and changes in the weather patterns that can be expected within the next few days,” the Minister said.

Military Prepared

Meanwhile speaking to the Sunday Observer on the preparedness to meet any demanding situation which could arise consequent to adverse weather Defence Spokesperson Major General Roshan Seneviratne said that 160 teams which are around 1250 troops at standby, out of which few teams have been deployed in the Ratnapura, Neluwa areas to attend to minor incidents such as route clearing. According to him, troops have been deployed to clear railway tracks where the embankments were washed away and to assist the Department of Railways.

Other than the naval crafts that are situated in the sea 30 teams on the ground have been kept standby with equipment and boats to face any situation. “ Two Bell 212 aircrafts of the Air Force, Two MI-17 aircrafts including 24 teams are kept on standby to assist the Disaster Management Centre (DMC) in carrying out their services,” Major General Seneviratne said adding that so far there has not been any rescue missions since the damage has not been severe. Neluwa, Akuressa, Deniyaya and several areas in the upcountry region troops have been committed. The Diyatalawa – Bandarawela railway line has been affected to which the Army has attended already he said.

Starting yesterday morning army teams were also assisting the CEB with four groups consisting of 10 personnel in each group to restore the disrupted electricity supply in the affected areas. Further 13 teams were deployed to assist 13 AGA divisions in the Kalutara district, starting yesterday Morning. “In each battalion island wide we have search and rescue teams trained hence we are able to attend to any situation island wide with our teams that are kept alert,” he confirmed.

According to the Navy spokesperson, Commander Dinesh Bandara 11 teams of the Navy has been deployed in Galle, Matara, Kalutara and Ratnapura districts, while 50 more teams are kept standby at several Navy camps for immediate deployment. We also have a special mobile truck which is equipped with all necessary amenities.

The Navy was involved in transferring around 108 people to safe areas in the Athureliya Pitabedda around in the Akuressa area, which is inundated due to weather conditions.

Meanwhile, the 7 missing boats were not located till last evening, speaking on search missions the Navy spokesperson went on to say that the search missions are continuously carried out by the ‘Sayura’ ship.

Power Restored

However, power failures are still being experienced in certain areas around the island. According to Minister Anura Priyadarshana Yapa, it is the second major issue that the government is facing. The Minister says the CEB has been working around the clock to restore electricity and were successfully able to restore more than half affected by Friday morning.

Explaining further on the current power situation Director (Development), Ministry of Power and Renewable Energy, Sulakshana Jayawardena said that after the adverse weather experienced on Wednesday there were more than one million electricity customers facing power supply interruptions in some way. “By Thursday it was possible to bring down this number to 800 000 and it was further reduced t0 552,472 by Friday Morning,” he said adding that the CEB has had to deploy additional teams to the affected areas.

“Teams from non-affected areas such as East, North Central and Wayamba provinces are also deployed to affected areas and they are currently working in the field to bring the power supply back to normalcy” he confirmed. The most affected areas are said to be Colombo, Galle, Matara, Hambantota and Kalutara whereas Badulla, Ratnapura, Nuwara Eliya and Matale were comparatively affected lesser. Speaking further Jayawardena also pointed out the people should be vigilant and take necessary precautions at necessary instances.

Badulla Rail Services

Railways services also took a hit due to the adverse weather after falling trees and rocks blocked several main railways lines. While the services of the Kelani Valley line were restored in a matter of hours however the line heading from Nanu Oya to Badulla remains out of service. Speaking on the restoration of the railway system, General Manager of the Sri Lanka Department of Railways, S M Abeywickrema said that other than the Nanuoya - Badulla track all others are working as usual.

According to him while the track is being cleared however the risk of earth slips continues due to the rain. “There is a risk in the Nanuoya - Badulla tracks because there is the possibility of loose earth and rocks falling down to the tracks, therefore we have suspended running any trains in the area until the weather clears out,” he said adding that no time frame can be given as to when services up to Badulla will be function as normal.

Calm before storm ?

Cyclone Ochki, at the time of writing now lies over 850 Kilometers west away from Sri Lanka. While the severe cyclone wreaked havoc in Sri Lanka and the neighbouring India its adverse weather effects on the country is expected to gradually decrease in the coming days. Nevertheless the Department of Meteorology has predicted showers for a number of provinces and districts in Sri Lanka. While rains are expected in the western, central and sabaragamuwa provinces, the department has also predicted showers in the Puttalam, Galle and Matara districts along with winds going up to around 50 Kilometers per hour. Seas off the coast of Sri Lanka especially in the Western and Southern areas will continue to be rough and experience strong winds as well as heavy rains, a fact concerning for the fisher communities.

Current Situation

Director General of the 
Department of Meteorology, Sarath Premalal Kehelella

As the Cyclone continues to move away daily life is now returning to normal. Power has been restored to a large number of areas as railways services returned to normal yesterday. While obstructed roads have now been cleared schools are also set to reopen tomorrow.

However despite this flood threats in certain areas remain due to the continuous rains. With more rains predicted sources from the Department of Irrigation have issued warnings to people living in several low lying areas. According to Director of Irrigation (Hydrology) P. Hettiarachchi the flood threats in high lying areas have diminished. “But flood threats to several low lying areas continues” she said adding that the Nilwala River near the Panadugama area has reached high flood levels. While the water levels are falling however according to her Akuressa, Athureliya, Malimbada, Matara, Thihagoda and Kamburupitiya therefore continues to experience floods. However according to Hettiarachchi flood levels are expected to decrease as no significant rains were experienced in the last 12 hours.

Meanwhile water levels of the Gin Ganga also remains stable she said adding that the rise of water levels have now halted. “However we advise those living below the Baddegama area to be vigilant” Hettiarachchi warned. While the water levels of the Kalu River in the Millakanda area continues to rise according to Hettiarachchi the people need not panic. “Its at a minor flood level and we do not expect water levels to rise significantly in the next 12 hours” she confirmed.

The National Building Research organization (NBRO) has also continued to ask the public to be vigilant. Issuing a warning the department asked people to be watchful for landslides, slope failures, rock falls and cutting failures if the rains continue during the next 24 hours.

According to the NBRO warnings have been issued to the Eheliyagoda and Weligepola areas in Ratnapura while people of Nuwaraeliya, especially Labookellie are requested to be vigilant. Yakkalamulla and Nagoda of Galle as well as Elkaduwa, Matale have been issued similar warnings. Badulla, Hambantota, Monaragala and Kalutara are other areas that have been informed the Organization said.

New Threat

However despite the reduced effects of Cyclone Ochki the public now remain concerned regarding a tropical threat brewing in the South Andaman sea. With Meteorologist Adam Douty of Accuweather, a provider of commercial weather forecasts claiming that this budding tropical system may prove to be more impactful than Cyclonic Storm Ochki the Sri Lankan people are now worried of its possible effects on Sri Lanka. According to Douty the cyclone may landfall in India and cause devastating effects. According to Accuweather Tropical development is possible during the weekend near the Andaman and Nicobar islands in the Bay of Bengal while this potential cyclone will then have an opportunity to organize further and strengthen as it crosses the southern Bay of Bengal.

Predictions have been made that the eastern coast of India will be at risk for impacts from the tropical cyclone by the middle of this week, with areas from Tamilnadu to Andhra Pradesh at highest risk for flooding and winds strong enough to cause sporadic power outages and damage to trees and weak structures.However they have also noted that If tropical development is delayed, impacts to India may not commence until later next week.

Meanwhile International Weather forecasters have also predicted a possible renewed risk of floods in Sri Lanka if the forming storm tracks far enough to the south in the coming days.

According to the Director General of the Department of Meteorology Sarath Premalal Kehelella though there is a possibility of another disturbance however it was too early to make a prediction in this regard. “It is still in the developing stage and too far to have a direct impact” he said.

However the Department of Meteorology says they continue to monitor the situation and necessary early wwarnings will be given to the public. “We urge the general public to be alert to weather warnings by the Department in the coming days” he said adding that they should also heed these warnings made to ensure their personal safety.

Red Cross spokesperson, Mahesh Jonny speaking to the Sunday Observer said the focus is now on the next possible cyclone which is forming in the seas off Sri Lanka. “We believe the next may hit the Northern and Eastern parts of the country,” he said adding that according to the current modules, it could go past East and North which will result in extreme winds and rain to those identified areas.

“From Amparai area up until Jaffna is demarcated as prone to be affected by the second depression that is currently developing and moving towards the country,” Jonny said. According to him the Red Cross has kept its branches in those areas on alert and supplies have been moved to the relevant camps in which Red Cross volunteers will be operating. According to the spokesperson, any possible relief operations will be carried out in coordination with the DMC.

S. Thomas Prep School severely damaged by storm

By Dishan Joseph

Damage caused at S. Thomas’ Prep School, Kollupitiya

In the aftermath of the high speed wind and relentless rain S. Thomas Prep School, located at Colpetty suffered serious losses in terms of its buildings. The school built in 1938, had withstood eight decades before being subject to severe winds. Walking around the school we were able to witness the terrible damage that was unleashed by the cyclonic weather conditions last Wednesday. The tallest building in the school that houses the Chapel was also damaged. The roof right above the sacred altar was torn apart, exposing the entire sanctum to be filled with water causing much inconvenience.

The classroom block of Grade 5 was the same with the gusts of wind unleashing their fury and tearing away most of the roof. The hall block was also subject to danger and part of the roof on the right side of the building was exposed. Most of the buildings and classrooms were soaking wet. A marquee erected for an event was seen twisted and crushed by the cyclone. Debris was found scattered all around the premises and the grounds.

Present Head Master Rev. Fr. Dushantha Rodrigo said “ I am sorry to see the damage, however I am deeply thankful to the parents, the board of governors and the faithful old boys for their support and concern. We hope we can complete the repairs and be ready to commence the next term. We have all come together as one Prep family ”. The confident priest and teachers remain positive.

Aussie dream shattered

As Cyclone Ockhi battered Sri Lanka with its gale force winds and rain it also dealt a severe blow to the hopes of around 30 illegal asylum seekers to Australia from Sri Lanka as the multi-day fishing trawler they were attempting their journey in met with some difficulties off the coast of Sri Lanka due to the adverse weather conditions.

Despite repeated warnings from the Australian as well as the Sri Lankan government people have continued in their attempts to reach Australia in the search for greener pastures misled by the belief they will be granted asylum by the Australian government. This particular group had set out to sea on November 29 from Udappuwa, Mundalama a coastal village considered to be a popular oasis for the people smuggling trade. Sources say the Skipper of the trawler had escaped when the boat stalled leaving the Asylum seekers to fend for themselves.

The Skipper-less boat had in a twist of fate washed ashore to the Naguleliya Island off, Arachchikattuwa in Chilaw perhaps saving the lives of those travelling in it in spite of the harsh weather. 32 of these asylum seekers were later arrested by Naval Personnel attached to the North - Western Naval Command with the support of the Arachchikattuwa Police.

According to Sri Lanka Navy sources, suspicious boat activity was detected in the seas five nautical miles off the Naguleliya Island prompting them to deploy a patrol craft to intercept the trawler. While arrests were made and the trawler taking into custody by the Navy during the raid the asylum seekers were found out to be residents of Udappuwa, Mullaitivu and Jaffna according to Police Spokesperson SP Ruwan Gunasekara. The Police now continues to comb the areas in Udappuwa for other possible suspects from the stranded boat giving a stark warning to those attempting this perilous journey.

PIC: Rukmal Gamage, Saman Mendis, Wasitha Patabendige, Priyan de Silva, Vipula Amerasinghe