Thursday, June 3, 2010

Cyclone "Phet" looms large on Pakistani coast as president alert troops

People are being evacuated from the coastal areas to safety on Thursday as Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari alerted the army and all organs of the government to stay alert and prepare to meet the possible fallout in view of the intensifying cyclone "Phet".

As the sun was rising high on Thursday morning, so was the intensity of "Phet" which was rapidly reducing its distance with the southern port city of Karachi from around 800 kilometers and spinning at a speed of 143 nautical miles, raising alarms and fears in Pakistan's Sindh and Balochistan provinces.

"The storm is going to hit different areas in different ways," General (retired) Nadim Ahmed, Chairman of National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) said Thursday, adding "flash floods are likely in Balochistan while strong winds would take billboards down in Karachi."

It can possibly submerge the posh areas of Defense and Clifton in Karachi, which is already below the sea level. Some of the sectors of the expensive residential areas of Defense such as Phase-8 have been developed on the reclaimed land on the beach of the Arabian Sea.

However, commenting on the possible disaster to Karachi's posh coastline residences, Ahmed sounded optimistic as he believed that the storm might not be able to raze the well built homes.

Meteorological Department expert Arif Mahmood believed that the cyclone would create 6-8 meter waves. All the lower Sindh areas of Mirpurkhas, Badin, Thatta and others would have heavy rains and be hit by strong winds of 80-100 kilometers per hour on Saturday.

However, Sindh's Chief Meteorologist Muhammad Riaz opined that the intensity of "Phet" might reduce and it would change the direction in the next 24 hours.

Zardari directed the armed forces as well as all government departments to remain vigilant of any possible fall-out of the tropical cyclone approaching towards the coastal areas.

The president also instructed all concerned departments to take immediate precautionary measures in this regard.

Despite the possible fallout of the storm, the accompanying rain would certainly reduce the sizzling summer heat that claimed at least 18 lives in the month of May.

The forecasted rain is likely to flood the 15 million people in metropolis Karachi, as its drainage system appears to be in a terrible state. The width of drainage canal system in the Pakistani largest city has been reduced from 30 meters to just 3 meters due to silt and garbage, which certainly would be ineffective in draining out the possible cyclonic rain water, said experts.

Federal Minister for Ports and Shipping Babar Khan Ghouri has declared a state of emergency in all the three ports of the South Asian nuclear state: Karachi port, Bin Qasim port and Gwadar port. A special monitoring cell has also been established to study the cyclone, the minister added.

The Sindh provincial government has declared a state of emergency and put all the departments and agencies on a high alert. An official notification has also declared that all the vacations of essential service providing agencies should be canceled.

"We rushed to safety sensing the brewing storm," said Khalid, a local fisherman, while pulling his boat along with others on the sand to safety on coast in Karachi.

The fishermen cooperative society has stopped issuing permits to fishing boats. All of the 350 fishing boats that went out into the open seas last week have not returned home yet. An official of the society said that they have sent a message to them and the fishing boats would return soon.

"We are not going anywhere, God will take care of us," said Zarina, a house wife in the shanty town in the suburban coastal Kemari area of Karachi, the capital city of Sindh.

Sindh's coastal areas of Thatta and Badin have been evacuated, but local journalist Hanif Zai said that the situation in relief camps is quite discouraging in the absence of essentials for some 15,000 IDPs.

In May 1999, 700 people went missing and hundreds of coastal villages were submerged east of Karachi when a storm hit Pakistan. Hundred of thousands of homes were destroyed in Balochistan in flooding caused by a tropical storm in June 2007.


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