Biparjoy: With the sun playing hide and seek amid gusty winds at Jakhau village, 10 kilometres inland from Jakhau port, the pleas of nearly two dozen fishermen to allow them to the port are falling on the deaf ears of the policemen Wednesday.
In Mandvi town, Jakhau which also falls in the predicted path of the Biparjoy, an undeclared curfew prevailed on Wednesday.
Even as they have been pleading for about two hours, the wind picks up speed and suddenly, it starts to pour heavily forcing the fishermen to run for shelter.
“The rain and seepage of seawater will flood my boats, increasing their weight. Such heavy boats can break into two when they fall off a tidal wave. There is no one there to bail the water out of my boats. The police are not letting us go towards the port,” said Abdur Vagher, a fisherman at Jakhau port.
On Monday, the state government evacuated around 80 people — all of them fishermen — from the Jakhau port as Biparjoy, the cyclonic storm blowing in the northeast Arabian Sea, is headed towards the port in Godiya creek on the Kutch coast.
Located around 120 kilometres west of Bhuj, the district headquarters of Kutch, this harbour provides access to one of the richest marine fishing waters of India and hundreds of fishermen from the 1,650-km-long coastline of Gujarat prefer to operate their boats from here during the 10-month-long fishing season that begins from August 1.
As the open sea is around 15 kms off the port, Jakhau is also considered among the safest harbours for boats and ships in the times of cyclones. However, the forecast of the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) that Biparjoy will make landfall at Jakhau in the form of a very severe cyclonic storm with a sustained wind speed of 125-135 kilometres per hour (kmph) gusting to 150 kmph on Thursday evening, has the fishermen in great fear and anxiety.
“There are 522 boats in the port. We lifted around 70 large trawlers on the dock with the help of cranes. But the rest have been beached in the harbour. If the cyclone brings storm winds and mighty tidal waves with it, these boats will collide with one-another and all of them will be damaged,” says Abdullasha Pirzada, president of Jakhau Bandar Fishermen and Boat Association.
Fishermen said they have not been allowed to return to the port to check on their boats since they were evacuated from their homes and brought to three cyclone relief shelters in Jakhau village Monday. “They didn’t allow us to proceed towards the harbour on Tuesday and are saying no one will be allowed to go there today also,” said Momad Sanghar, owner of Al Ajmeri, a small fishing boat.
Jakhau village sarpanch Abdul Sumra said fishermen’s anxieties were justified. “For fishermen, their fishing boats are their lifelines and in times of rough sea conditions, they would apparently like to go to the harbour and check if their boats are not flooded and are properly anchored,” Sumra said.
However, as per the IMD, Biparjoy is likely to cause storm surge up to three metres above the astronomical tides, inundating low-lying areas along Saurashtra-Kutch coast and that the astronomical tides could be up to six metres. The IMD has predicted that the storm, upon hitting the coast, would lead to total destruction of thatched houses, extensive damage to kutcha houses and some damage to even pucca houses. It would also bend or uproot power and communication poles, cause damage to roads and railway lines and that small boats and country craft may get detached from their moorings.
In such a situation, Kutch Collector Amit Arora said no one would be allowed to remain in the harbour. “Given the IMD’s forecast, as per the state government orders, we will not allow anyone in the harbour till the time the impact of the cyclone is felt in Kutch,” Arora told The Indian Express, adding, “We have helped fishermen lift their boats on the dock with cranes and do proper mooring of others in an attempt to save boats from likely damage during the storm.”
The fishermen’s anxieties about their source of livelihood come around seven months after the state government undertook a mega demolition drive at Jakhau port, razing nearly 430 structures, including about 150 to 200 homes, in October last year after terming them encroachments on government land. “Homes of around 40 families were spared as their children were studying in primary schools in the Jakhau harbour and they had nowhere to go,” a government source who was part of the demolition drive said.
On Wednesday morning, rain splashed debris of demolished homes, godowns and shops even as dogs tried to seek shelter amid them. Save a few policemen inside the checkpost on the jetty of the port, stray gods were the only souls moving about in Jakhau.
Pirzada said that besides the three dozen families whose homes were spared, around 100 carpenters and mechanics repairing the boats were the only ones in the port when the government ordered shutting down of the port and evacuation of fishermen. The fishing season had already ended on May 31.
Many fishermen said they didn’t hesitate to vacate their homes when police came knocking on their doors Monday. “Everyone loves one’s life. So, when police came to our home saying we needed to shift to safer places in Jakhau village, we didn’t hesitate and came here,” said Musa Tharecha (58), a fisherman whose home was spared from the demolition drive as her granddaughter Taiba is studying in Class 2 at the government school in Jakhau port.
Tharecha and other fishermen families have been given shelter in Kumar-Kanya Shala, a government primary school that has been converted into a cyclone shelter. “It is possible that the cyclone will damage my small fishing boat. But if we remain alive, we can try to repair our boat. So, I shifted to this school with my six family members when the police asked us,” said Hussain Bhagad (62), another fisherman.
In Mandvi town, 80 kms east of Jakhau and which also falls in the predicted path of the Biparjoy, an undeclared curfew prevailed Wednesday. Policemen kept a vigil behind heavily barricaded roads leading to the sandy Mandvi sea beach.
However, by afternoon, the beach looked an intimidating place with gales of winds swishing through abandoned fast food stalls and changing rooms — their canvas torn to shreds and fluttering like flags. “It has been like this since Monday when they started evacuating people from huts and kutcha houses. The local administration has been making announcements through loudspeakers, warning them about the impending danger of the cyclone hitting Mandvi and therefore, asking them to remain indoors,” Juma Alarakhiya, a who had to shut his sugarcane juice stall at Talav Gate near the beach, said.
Abdul Mistry, an imam at a local mosque near the beach, said the current generation has not seen this level of threat. “All my life, I have never seen port signal No.10 being hoisted in Mandvi port, though in the 1998 cyclone, which ravaged Kandla, had uprooted trees and damaged some homes in Mandvi also,” he said.
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