On October 12, 2014, Cyclone Hudhud made landfall in Vishakapatnam, a small city in the state of Andhra Pradesh located on India’s eastern coast. It was the strongest storm of its kind to ever hit the subcontinent.
Vizag – as the city is nicknamed – is located along the Eastern Ghats, a series of lush green hills along the coast. Home to two endemic species (the Jerdon’s course and the slender gray loris), these forests also provide a refuge for a multitude of endangered animals such as Bengal tigers, the Great Indian Bustard, and Leith’s softshell turtle.
In preparation for the storm, over 700,000 people were evacuated and placed in refugee camps. Initial reports counted only two dead from severe tropical winds, though the total death toll within the state would eventually climb to 46.
The city was dense with foliage before. Now, it is a wasteland.
The three months that have passed since the storm have been enough time for greenery to creep back into view. At first glance, the forests seem healthy. It would, however, have to be a very brief glance, totalling no more than a few milliseconds, for you to realize how wrong that assumption was.
Of the few trees left standing, not a single one exists without a broken limb, hanging oddly off to the side or ripped off altogether, leaving behind a white, gaping wound. No vertical coconut trees remain: all are bent at odd angles; just from looking at their leaves you can tell which way the winds were blowing – the few limp strands that remain are always on the opposite side. Few of them will survive, it is obvious. 200,000 trees fell during the days Hudhud ravaged the country: what we see are only the survivors.
Driving anywhere is a depressing site. Every second petrol station will be defunct; a pile of oddly twisted metal bars lie beside these – the remains of its roof. The same goes for the airport. Only one conveyor belt is working. Corrugated iron serves as a makeshift cover.
It used to be that most buildings in the town were barely visible from the road, hidden as they were in foliage. Trees over 50 years old shaded the streets.
Most of that is gone now. The place is hard to recognize. Buildings are not landmarks, have never been: their surrounding familiarize us, and with them all broken and scarred, you are left lost.
I had never really thought of this place as green, despite having come here since childhood – you never know what you have till you lose it; never appreciate what is there till it’s gone. You cannot rail against some human force for this storm. No mortal agency caused it. This was nature, plain and simply; and so nature suffered most. You cannot evacuate trees, cannot evacuate birds, animals, wildlife. Save ourselves – that has always been humanity’s rousing call to action.
This is nature, and nature alone fixes herself.
This is just the beginning of a long, long period of recovery. But maybe there is hope.
Maybe the forests will grow back thicker than ever. Maybe 50 years hence we will have a more beautiful place. Maybe the birds that left, bereft of nest and rest, will return. Maybe the branches will grow back. Maybe the plants will grow back. Maybe there will be better infrastructure, better lives, better people because of this.
On October 12, 2014, Cyclone Hudhud made landfall in Vishakapatnam, a small city in the state of Andhra Pradesh located on India’s eastern coast. It was the strongest storm of its kind to ever hit the subcontinent. But maybe –
Maybe something new can come out of it.