Cyclones, Tsunami and the Sethusamudram project

Union shipping and surface transport minister T R Baalu, touring the tsunami affected Tuticorin and Nagercoil coast of Tamil Nadu in the first week of January, told media persons the Sethusamudram ship canal project will save the coast from tsunamis.

The foundation stone for this project, which envisages digging a 44.9 nautical-mile channel through the Rameswaram island, linking the Palk Strait with the heritage bio- reserve, the Gulf of Mannar at a present cost of Rs.20 billion, is to be laid soon.

The channel is expected to save 402 nautical miles of journey between India's west and east coasts.

The minister told the media that tsunamis will not effect the Sethusamudram canal building.

'There will be no let up in implementation of the Sethusamudram project', Baalu said after inspecting the Tuticorin and Colachel ports and the Rameswaram  and Kanyakumari coastline last Sunday.

He said, as part of the project, a sea wall, 3 to 4 ft high will be built along the Tuticorin coast to protect the area here.

After six tsunamis hit India's east coast on Dec 26 morning, environmentalist are, however, objecting to having such a project in this area, saying it will put more human lives and infrastructure in danger.

The India Meteorological Department has assigned the Palk Bay area as a 'high risk area' for volcanic and cyclonic activity. 

Dutch shipping records of as old as 1627 tell of  'great storms that lashed the Coromandel coast, wrecking 200 vessels from Sao Tome (modern-day Chennai)' .

Member of the forum Doctors for Safe Environment, R Ramesh, says the Gulf of Mannar is an area where volcanic activities are very possible.

He cites studies by the international Indian Ocean Expedition of 1975 and a study by an underwater geologist G R K Murthy in 1994, to point out that these reports say, 'magnetic and gravity data from the GoM floor' shows 'a channel like feature about 12 to 20 km width in a broad trough on the ocean floor in this area, which is likely to be a result of shallow earthquake of less than 7 magnitude'.

The studies also report volcanic vents at 5 to 11 km depths, which show 'presence of major tectonic structural features in the GoM floor'.

Sunday's tsunamis that hit several Asian countries, was caused, experts say due to movement of the Indian sub-continental tectonic plate under the Burma plate.

Since Dec 26, as many as 100 aftershocks have hit the Andaman and Nicober group of islands, off this coast.

'To locate a shipping canal in an area which shows tectonic activity is not quite scientific', Ramesh says.

The Palk Bay area is also one of the five major sediment sinks of India, the pit that holds drainings from major rives in the peninsula.

The IMD's own records from 1891 to 2001 say out of the 452 storms that hit India, 256 hit the east coast.

South of 10 degree N, that is, the Nagapattinam coastline is 'highly vulnerable', most experts say. 

In 1964, a storm in December washed away the Pamban bridge and a train full of people, mostly holiday makers. 

In Nov 1966, a tidal bore battered Madras Port, which was again battered by Sunday's tsunami.

In Dec 1973, five meter high tidal waves hit Palk Bay, through which the Sethu canal will be dredged.

In 1977, Nagapattinam was hit by a cyclone. In 1978, Palk Bay was lashed by 120km speed winds.

In Nov 1992, Tuticorin harbour was battered by high winds and waves.

In 1993, as many as 111 people were killed on the Karaikal-Pondicherry coastline.

In I994, again 304 people died and 100,000 huts were washed away when high winds and rough seas hit Chennai city.

The Dec 26 tsunami has taken many more lives, the toll stands over 14,000.

'It is obvious, all these years of disasters has not made any government take notice and look at what kind of development is required', Ramesh says.

' Even if a fraction of the money going into the Sethu project had been used to set up calamity warning centers along the east coast, thousands of lives could have been saved today ', he adds. 


More by :  Papri Sri Raman

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