Frightening Freddy

Cyclones and other natural climatic and geological events will continue to affect the planet, and we can never be too prepared

By Dr R Neerunjun Gopee

It was said to be the strongest ever cyclone of the century with wind speeds nearing 300 km. Besides, it was a huge cyclone that had travelled at almost record speed to cover the 6000 km from where it had originated, to the north-west of Australia, and reach our vicinity in the Indian Ocean. The satellite images from high above were indeed impressive: in truth, that monster named Freddy had a certain beauty about it. Massive snow-white clouds swirled around what looked like a black hole – the eye of the cyclone – even as the whole system twirled its way westwards towards the Indian Ocean islands, which it fortunately skirted at a safe distance.

Cyclone Carol in Port Louis Feb 1960 Paturau. Pic – Vintage Mauritius

That’s why, when a Class 2 warning was issued by the Met Office on Sunday last, one wondered if it was really necessary, but Class 3 followed by Monday early morning and that was it. Stay indoors and don’t venture out. Nevertheless, the general impression overall is that there was more wind than rain, much less of the latter than during the two preceding cyclones Batsirai and Cheneso respectively.

There was no major problem to the power grid that could affect large swathes of the population, and in the few areas where there was a breakdown, it was promptly attended to and power restored. Finally, as fast as it had come Freddy left our region to hurtle towards Madagascar which once again had to bear the brunt. Fortunately, though, it had weakened into a tropical cyclone but, given the precariousness of human habitations in inland Madagascar (as was shown when the earlier cyclones hit the island), there is likely to be further damage as the folks there have probably not had the time or the resources to make good after the previous onslaughts.

‘Touch wood’ is what we can thankfully exclaim when we compare what we have undergone to the devastations and disruptions caused by more violent catastrophes elsewhere, such as the floods followed by the earthquake in New Zealand, and the earthquake in Syria-Turkey. The latest is that another earthquake of magnitude 6.3 has struck the latter anew a few days ago. That, alas for us, is the play of nature.

Being forced to be locked in and passively watch the elements from the window from time to time as a diversion from the TV or a book one is reading takes the mind back to cyclones that one has experienced before. This is spontaneous and memories swim into our ken as it were, in parts of the brain that neurologists call the ‘default mode network.’ Those that surface had marked us in some specific way(s).

For example, my own first memory of cyclones goes back to 1960, when first Alix struck in January 1960 followed by Carol a few weeks later in February. Our elders recalled the 1945 cyclone that was as destructive, and later when Gervaise came in February 1975, the weather experts used the term ‘15-year cycle’. That didn’t last, for after that till date we have had several cyclones at varying intervals.

Carol in particular scarred us because that was the first time in living memory that the eye of the cyclone passed over Mauritius. The winds and rains had died down after a few harrowing days of battering gusts of wind and rain, and the sun came out. It was absolutely still, and people started to come out to inspect the damage and to try and get some items from the corner shop or simply take a look at the neighbourhood, wrongly thinking that Carol had gone.

And then midmorning the police cars went around exhorting people to get back in quickly as the cyclone was going to hit again with even more violence as the winds changed direction. And that was exactly what happened a couple of hours later.

I can never forget the deathly silence that reigned the next morning when we stepped out of our leaking house and looked at the wreckage around us. On the roads people walked about shocked and benumbed, speaking softly, not quite knowing what to say. It would take a long time to get over that unforgettable trauma.

When Gervaise hit I was then staying in the hospital quarters at SSRN Hospital. The reason I particularly remember it is that when Class 3 was declared my wife was on duty in the gynae-obs department. At about 3 am she got a call that a colleague, who had got admitted earlier, had been transferred to the Labour Ward with strong labour pains, and there were some signs of foetal distress, so Sister requested her to come.

I accompanied her up to a tree that had fallen across the road, helped her to step over it into the waiting ambulance which took her to hospital. To cut a long story short, there was what we call a mi-cavity arrest: the foetus was stuck in the birth canal, and her attempts at delivering it with a special forceps were not successful. She talked to the specialist on call who could not come, and advised sedation till he could reach the next day. A Caesarian section was duly carried out. Today that ‘Gervaise’ child teaches English in a university the UK.

My next recall is that of cyclone Bakoly in December 1983. I was on call at PMOC and had to stay over per our Ministry of Health protocol. Next morning when I reached back home my four-year old son excitedly narrated to me, along with his mother, how they had spent a sleepless night collecting water in a bucket and emptying it several times. There was a leaking joint between two rooms in the house we had moved into in Curepipe the previous year.Read More… Become a Subscriber

Mauritius Times ePaper Friday 24 February 2023

An Appeal

Dear Reader

65 years ago Mauritius Times was founded with a resolve to fight for justice and fairness and the advancement of the public good. It has never deviated from this principle no matter how daunting the challenges and how costly the price it has had to pay at different times of our history.

With print journalism struggling to keep afloat due to falling advertising revenues and the wide availability of free sources of information, it is crucially important for the Mauritius Times to survive and prosper. We can only continue doing it with the support of our readers.

The best way you can support our efforts is to take a subscription or by making a recurring donation through a Standing Order to our non-profit Foundation.
Thank you.

Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *