Kolkata: The worst cyclone that Kolkata has faced in recent memory literally turned into the city’s darkest calamity with power utilities switching off supply to large swathes of the city, adjoining Salt Lake as well as the rest of North 24 Parganas district, South 24 Parganas, parts of Howrah, Hooghly and West Midnapore.
While it is a common practice for utilities to shut supply to localities served by overhead lines to prevent flashovers, short-circuits and electrocution, it was the first time that power in large parts of Kolkata that has an underground cable network was also closed. However, supply in these areas were restored after a couple of hours later, when the eye of the storm led to a 45-minute lull.
In Kolkata, lamp posts and traffic signals lay uprooted across the city. In the Tollygunge-Garia belt and Behala-Haridevpur, which is served by overhead supply, snapped power lines were reported from multiple localities. CESC officials said restoration work would begin only once the cyclone had passed and winds and rain subsided. Though the utility has kept nearly 5,000 workers on reserve for the emergency, they remained stranded as movement was virtually impossible amid high-velocity winds and torrential downpour.
Power disruption was the most widespread in the suburbs and districts, where swirling winds uprooted transmission towers for high-tension power lines, electric poles for low-tension supply lines to homes and ravaged sub-stations. Officials at state-owned utility WBSEDCL said it would take days to restore supply. “Our distribution network has been devastated. The damage to supply lines has been extensive in the districts through which the cyclone passed. In some areas, supply may return in four-five days. In others, it may take even longer,” an official said.
The cyclone also played havoc with cellphone, internet and cable connections with many unable to access the services during the storm. Alliance Broadband that offers internet services reported 99% disruption. So did CitiCable and other MSOs that offer both cable TV and internet services. Mobile service providers blamed it on snapping of power supply. “There was no typical problem in the network. Almost all signal-emission tower sites in the city exhausted their backup power for the long hours of load-shedding. The cyclonic weather did not allow us to back them up with extra generator sets,” said a senior official of a tower infrastructure outfit in the city.
In a statement, Vodafone Idea said it was ensuring sufficient fuel supply to the sites in key locations. Additionally, all cellular operators arranged for mobile DGs and critical equipment spares at key locations and set up 24×7 monitoring chambers. “We have also initiated ICR with other operators and will work closely with partners and government agencies to ensure stable telecom connectivity,” Vodafone Idea added. “This has been the fiercest storm and disruption has been massive. Over the next few days, there will be restoration activity everywhere. If the weather turns fair , it will hasten the process,” said Alliance regional head Joy Mukherjee.