willy and I have been unbelievably lucky when it comes to vacations. The “worst” weather that we ever had on a trip was when we were in Jamaica in January of 2010 and it rained for a bit and was overcast for a few days. Being the pale people that we are, we were really OK with that. For the most part, we have had record-breakingly fabulous weather. We know that we have been very lucky, and often joke about the “terrible” weather that we get. You know those days, the ones without a cloud in the sky, a cool breeze coming off the water, a nice shady place to lie and watch the world go by.
We decided to go to the beach for the week after Christmas, to see a new part of India, and to have some downtime with the family. we originally looked at going to Goa, but found it to be cost prohibitive, due to the fact that it is a destination spot for many travellers, and the prices greatly increase over the Christmas holidays. One of Willy’s colleagues suggested that Puducherry would also be very nice, so we consulted Grandma and Uncle D, and decided it fit the bill. We found a resort that looked lovely and booked ourselves in.
while we had originally planned on flying, it worked out that it was about the same travel time to drive from Bangalore, and our driver Subbu was willing to take us. We set off on Boxing day for the long drive, and got to see much of the Indian countryside that we would have otherwise missed. While the drive was long and tiring, it was worth it. We were happy to arrive at the resort, and pleased that it delivered on what it promised. Ocean views; lovely open air common spaces; young, but lush gardens; and a calmness and openness that we just don’t get in Bangalore. Our room even had a lovely private pool!
The week got off to a pretty rocky start. Woo was sick, running a high temp for the first two and a days. He was out of sorts and not eating or sleeping well. Goose was doing ok, but sleeping with us, and delivering a higher than expected number of kidney and groin kicks. The resort was very nice, but had some service issues, and the food was less than the spectacular I have come to expect in India. We got eaten alive by mosquitoes in the room the first night. Things we starting to look up as the week progressed. We had a fabulous day in Puducherry, exploring. The weather had cleared up and the sun was shining. The seas were providing wonderful waves that we fun to watch – each more spectacular than the last. Then I caught a tweet on an Indian news service that I follow, mentioning a cyclone that was expected to make landfall near Cuddalore. Cuddalore is a town that was about 10km south of where we were staying. I let Willy, Grandma, and Uncle D know, and started following the news a little more closely.
Thursday was a grey and windy day, and it started raining in the early afternoon. We weren’t sure what to expect, but this picture made it clear that we were in for some nasty weather:
The day just passed. No one at the resort seemed to be worried, and there was no talk of “battening down the hatches” or any such thing. We noted the the seas had become violent, and the hotel closed the beach early.
The lils and I had a very windy supper in the open restaurant before Willy, his mum, and brother went out to dinner and saw Uncle D off on his cross India adventure at the bus station. Willy returned to the room a little after nine and reported that it was windy and rainy, but little had changed over the evening. We packed up and tried to tidy as much as we coould inside and out, moving most of our belongings inside, putting all of our valuables off the ground, and locking the large glass doors to the room and outdoor bathroom as best as we could. We went to bed not knowing what to expect.
I awoke a little after two to the howling wind and periodic banging of the wooden door between the bathroom and pool area. Willy awoke shortly after me, and actually went outside to close the door! I was content to let it bang away, but it bothered him enough to go out in the raging wind and re-latch. We both lay in the dark listening to the storm intensify. The door came open several more times, and each time he ventured back out to latch it. On the second or third trip he reported that the loud noise I had heard while he was outside was part of the bathroom’s roof being ripped off.
Goose woke shortly after three, and was very curious about the noises outside the room. I explained that the big storm was blowing things around, and damaging things. She was at first worried about where her toothbrush might be in the morning, but I assured her that we would find it. Placated, she started to identify the sounds and gave a play-by-play of what was happening right outside the room. “Oh, that was our milk glass breaking”, she calmly whispered, “oops, there goes more of the bathroom roof”. She calmly watched as Willy went outside one more time to secure the latch, and as he and I moved a large wooden cabinet in front of the glass door to the bathroom that was taking the brunt of the wind.
Then Goose whispered the four words that you don’t want to hear at four in the morning as a cyclone rages overhead, “I need to pee“. Our bathroom was outside and getting hit, so that wasn’t an option. Willy again went out into the storm to get a sand bucket for her to use as a commode, and she settled back to bed, this time asking to sleep between us. She wasn’t scared, just wanted to cuddle. She and Willy drifted off to sleep around five, in the eerie calm as the eye of the storm passed over us. It began to rage on again and I tried to remain calm, but each bang made me jump and tense, certain that the wind was going to blow one of the doors in. This fear intensified when the wind blew some roofing material against the main door. It was a rubber mat that had large metal fasteners attached to it. They banged against the glass loudly and often. I nearly jumped out of my skin each time.
Woo slept blissfully though all of this chaos and noise. He woke around 6:45, later than normal, and ran to the door find out what was going on out there. I leapt out of bed and moved him to the couch. we sat and watched out a window that was sheltered from the wind. He had many questions about the storm, which I answered as best as I could. I continued to watch out the main door, and happened to be watching as the gazebo by our pool collapsed. This brought a rash of new questions, most of which centered on the safety of the lounge chairs under the gazebo, chairs that he had spent many hours playing happily on.
During all of this time we were worried about Willy’s mum, who was in an ocean facing room by herself. We didn’t want to call her on the off chance that she was blissfully unaware, and weren’t able to venture to her room, then finally lost power and thought it was moot. We were pleased and surprised when she called and let us know that she was fine. Her door had blown in pre-dawn, and she had called hotel staff who came and brought her to a safe place. She agreed to check in with us regularly, but was safe and dry.
The morning dragged on slowly. We munched on all the emergency snacks that I was carrying with me, and waited for the storm to slowly weaken. Willy made several trips out and about and reported pretty severe damage to the hotel. We reached Subbu, who had managed to drive to the main road, but could not drive the final 2.5km to where we were. The road to the resort was littered with downed powerlines, trees, branches, and other debris. He was lucky enough to have made it to us at all, given that the car that had been parked beside his overnight was crushed in the storm! We waited and watched, were served some lunch, and finally received word that the road was now passable. We called for Subbu, grabbed our bags, adopted two stranded folks, and headed out. I took a few minutes before we left to take a couple of snaps:
There are more pictures at http://flic.kr/s/aHsjxHRi8D
As we drove down the road, we were shocked by the damage. They had cleared a path that was no wider that the minivan we were driving. There were trees and branches that had fallen across the road every foot or so. Many houses were badly damaged, or outright destroyed. Entire plantations of new and mature trees were flattened. The damage continued as we moved north into Puducherry. As we approached the waterfront we had to drive down streets that were under more than a foot of water. We finally had to stop and let our passengers out a bit short of their alternate accomodation, as the roads were no longer safe to pass. The damage continued far inland on the drive home, as did the rain. The road was slow, but we didn’t mind. We were so glad to be safe, dry, and going home.
Short video shot driving out of Puducherry
The resort we were staying at took a direct hit. Cyclone Thane was classified as a very severe cyclone, the second highest rating. According to reports, it was the equivalent of a strong category two/weak category three hurricane. Current reports identify that 42 people were killed in Puducherry and Cuddalore, and that over 20,000 people are homeless. The damage is shocking, and I can only hope that there will be some sort of relief efforts, and will gladly contribute to whatever I find. We left feeling very lucky to have escaped unscathed. This despite the fact that the hotel was largely unprepared, and did nothing to warn any guests of the storms potential for damage. We are very concerned, as many people were left in a very vulnerable position. We plan to write to their corporate offices to express our feelings.
Grandma and I are going to Kerala next week, so we joked about whether the west coast of India is prone to cyclones. It turns out that the Arabian Sea does get cyclones, so I tried to see the forecast:
See those two white dots to the south west of India? Oy.