Wind wreaks havoc in Thiruvananthapuram's Vettoor

TNIE reporter Shainu Mohan and photographer B P Deepu share the plight of residents whose homes were destroyed in the strong winds that lashed the area
Najeeb R standing in front of his damaged house at Thazhe Vettoor near Varkala
Najeeb R standing in front of his damaged house at Thazhe Vettoor near Varkala

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: It was terrifying to see the roof of our housegetting blown... It all happened in the blink of an eye,” says traumatised Hassain S, a 35-year-old resident of ward 1 of Vettoor panchayat, who lost his house in the strong winds.

On Wednesday at noon, strong gusting winds swept through the densely populated fishing hamlet of Vettoor, a panchayat that shares boundaries with Varkala municipality, inflicting significant damage to property.

The sudden windstorm, which lasted nearly two minutes, uprooted and damaged around 400 trees, and destroyed around 40 houses within seconds. 

Hassain lives with his joint family of 10 members, including four children, in a tin-roofed house.

“It was a normal day and my uncle and I were watching TV. The windows were open. Suddenly, we began experiencing a strong wind, and the power started to flicker. We had no time to respond and quickly ran out of the house, holding on to a tree in our compound,” recalls Hassain, one among the many displaced in the blink of an eye.

“The trees were swaying wildly, uprooted and crashing onto houses and properties. Fortunately, children were at school and women were out at work,” he adds. 

Sabeer S, 25, was home alone when the wind struck. “I was upstairs when it happened and ran out of the house. My house has been completely destroyed,” Sabeer explains. 

Panchayat vice-president Nasimudeen M says that the wind lasted less than two minutes.

An uprooted tree crashed on the toilet block of CMJ English Medium School
An uprooted tree crashed on the toilet block of CMJ English Medium School

“Around 40 houses have been damaged in that time. The tin roofs were blown off, trees uprooted and fell on several houses,” says Nasimudeen, a member of ward number 1. Vettoor panchayat convened an emergency meeting on Friday to provide immediate relief to the disaster victims. 

“I was at an open ground at the time. It was like a tornado sweeping away everything in its path. The destruction displaced many families. We are taking stock of the damage and so far we have received over 60 complaints. It was a mysterious phenomenon and we didn’t get any prior warning. Fortunately, nobody was hurt,” he adds. 

The fire department had a tedious day and the relief activities, removing trees that fell on the houses, continued until late in the night on Wednesday. Several electric posts were uprooted and the work to reinstate the power connections is still underway. 

IMD clueless  

Heavily localised weather events are becoming a major challenge for disaster management agencies and the India Meteorological Department as it is becoming impossible to predict or forecast such occurrences.

According to IMD, the automatic weather stations near the area didn’t record any unusual activity. Interestingly, the weather stations recorded a wind speed of around 33 km per hour while the gusting wind swept through the fishing villages. 

MET Director Neetha K Gopal says no unusual radar signatures were detected, suggesting a potentially unusual meteorological occurrence. “We anticipated normal winds typically associated with thunderstorms. Strong, destructive winds during the pre-monsoon period are not uncommon. Currently, the monsoon is weak, and local peculiarities are not fully understood. Radar observations did not indicate any abnormal wind strengths,” she adds.

“This event could be attributed to a gust front that precedes thunderstorms. A vertical downward movement, a downdraft, within when a raining thunderstorm hits the ground may have contributed to this localised weather phenomenon,” she explains. 

Youngsters cut down an uprooted tree which fell on a house
Youngsters cut down an uprooted tree which fell on a house

‘Could be Gustnado’

According to M G Manoj, a scientist at the CUSAT Radar Research Centre, the strong wind could be a gustnado, a whirlwind-like phenomenon. According to weather experts, the spatial distribution of gustnado has increased in Kerala in the recent past. The gust wind can reach 80-180 km/hour speed and last only for seconds or up to ten minutes while inflicting maximum damage. 

“Deep cumulonimbus clouds could have triggered the event. It’s heavily localised and almost impossible to forecast in advance. Studies are underway to forecast such events,” Manoj adds.

Weather expert Rajeevan Erikulam explains the region’s topography could have also contributed to the impact. “The AWS at Varkala has recorded only 33 km per hour wind and in Aruvikkara around 44 km per hour when the incident occured,” he says.

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