Photo Credit: Consulate General of India, New York/ Twitter
As the tropical storm Irma passed over Florida, it has already claimed four lives and left about 5.8 million people in the state powerless.
Florida, home to 120,000 Indians, according to the 2010 US census, is currently being monitored closely not just in the US, but also across the globe and especially in India.
To ensure that the Indian American community gets the support needed, Sandeep Chakravorty, the consul general, New York, has been appointed In-charge of hurricane Irma at the Consulate and is stationed in Atlanta these days.
Little India spoke to Sandeep Chakravorty on what the ground situation looks like currently.
There have been reports that a lot of Indian Americans decided to stay put in Florida despite US officials calling for a mandatory evacuation. Was it a wise decision not paying heed to the warnings?
No, there has been a bit of confusion over this. There were people in two kinds of places — those who were in the flood zones and those who were on the high ground. Not everyone was expected to move out. All the Indians who were in flood zones did move out and those who stayed put were the ones in the high ground and had concrete houses that could weather the storm. Many people moved within the state too and shifted to shelters. The locals also responded fantastically to the local authorities. They cooperated and if there were evacuation orders they drove as much as 8-12 hours to be in the safe zones.
The people in flood zones also moved out as far as New York, New Jersey, Atlanta and even West Coast, depending on their situation. The entire state of Florida was not expected to be evacuated.
Have you been able to take stock of the losses incurred – monetary or otherwise, particularly amongst the Indian American community? What does the situation look like currently?
We have been assessing the situation and have been trying to take a stock since morning today. As of now I am relieved to say that there has been no casualty reported from the Indian American community. There have been inconveniences, such as power outages, backflow of water in bathrooms etc., but there has been no very big damages reported. We are in touch with at least 100 Indian American families in Tampa, Jacksonville and other areas too and we have not got news of extensive damage. However, it is still early days and a lot of people who moved out of their homes are yet to go back and assess the situation. We are trying to keep a tab on information we can get from all quarters. I met an Indian American this morning in the hotel I am staying who had evacuated his house in Orlando. He shared that and has discovered that there is no major damage to his house, which is heartening. I hope we continue to get news of minimum damage.
Were there a lot distress calls that you received especially from the families back in India concerned about the whereabouts of their kin in Florida?
The good news is that the communication lines were up and running so people could talk to each other as well as to their relatives outside of USA. This apart the social media played an immensely important role. There are so many WhatsApp and Facebook groups that are operating and keeping a track on each other’s well being. It is difficult to follow all the groups, but we are doing our best. Of course there was some distress, as earlier the indication was that that the hurricane will move towards wes,t but it moved east instead. Some people from the east had moved west, but we were trying our best to relay the information and keep people safe. As of now we know that the situation is under control and we hope it stays the same.
The Indian community came out in a big way to offer support in Houston and the same energy was displayed in Florida too with a lot of Indian American organizations gearing up to offer help. What have been your observations?
The synergy with which the community offered to help each other has amazed me. Just now we received a call from another Gurudwara offering to help. About 400 homes of Indian Americans in Orlando were opened to offer shelter to people. The Indian community worked very closely together to deal with the situation. I met one person who had 40 people in his house and these were people from all states of India living and helping each other. There is another company from India that provides teachers in Florida and I got to know that there were about 125 teachers who were hosted by fellow teachers in Florida in their homes during the period. There are many such heart-warming stories emerging from the calamity.
There was a lot of emphasis on how Indian community responded during the time of Harvey too. Do you feel the current socio-political atmosphere also shaped the response or things got noticed more because the minorities are under scanner in America lately?
It’s difficult to say that socio-political situation conditioned the people’s response. I would however think that Indian American community has always been very active and have supported each other. It was also perhaps the first time the state had seen a warning of this extent, so a lot of people were proactive because of this if nothing else.