“Sickness is the vengeance of nature for the violation of her laws”. As rightly said by Charles Simmons, the author of ‘Salt Water’, this statement has been justified the time and again leaving behind horrific memories with it. In recent years, the world has witnessed almost every form of the disaster known to humankind. Be it earthquakes or cyclones, the rate of destruction occurs in colossal mass. Such an unfortunate calamity recently took place in the state of Odisha.
Nature has a powerful intellect way of balancing its gifts and teaching lessons to those who try mess with it. Towards the eastern part of India, with 485 km of coastline along the ‘Bay of Bengal’, lies the state of Odisha. It is famous worldwide for the Jagannath Temple in Puri. Rich art and literature of this region are very famous in the countries outside India. Besides having alluring landscapes and dreamy sceneries, Odisha is cursed to being hit by cyclones on a frequent basis. This year, in the month of May, a cyclone named FANI hit the coasts of Puri with a wind speed of 175 kmph.
Cyclone is referred to as a large scale of air mass that rotates around a strong center of low atmospheric pressure. Cyclone Fani, pronounced as Foni, got its name from Bangladesh. It means ‘snake’ or ‘hood of snake’. It is said to be an extremely severe cyclone and is compared to the Super Cyclone that happened in 1999 in Odisha. According to the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD), it is one of the strongest cyclones to have hit India in the last 20 years and is classified as a category 4 cyclone. The cyclone Fani made landfall near the coast of Puri in the early hours of May 3rd.
Reasons for FANI’s powerful occurrence
Fani originated from a tropical depression that formed in the west of Sumatra in the Indian Ocean on 26th April. But it wasn’t until 28th April that IMD issued a weather warning, stating that the Cyclone Fani would transform into a severe cyclonic storm. It was also predicted at first that the cyclone would make a landfall in Tamil Nadu and was supposed to cause heavy rainfall in Kerala with light to moderate rainfall in the coastal areas, but it altered its course. The conditions started getting more favourable on 30th April, and Fani immediately intensified into a category 4 extremely severe cyclone. The cyclone reached its peak intensity on 2nd May.
The Cyclone Fani is claimed to be unique in many ways. The most important factors that set it apart from the other tropical cyclones are its timing and strength. It is important to note that the cyclones traveling a longer time over the sea is generally more powerful. It is so because, staying for longer duration at sea allows to gather more water and momentum, which in turn results in generating stronger winds.
The trajectory of Cyclone Fani was special on its own. Fani developed from the equator and moved upwards. That’s the reason why it had a much longer journey from the starting point to the point where it made the landfall than the other cyclones that generate in the Bay of Bengal. Had it made the landfall in Tamil Nadu, its strength would have been much lower. After hitting Odisha, it moved towards Bangladesh.
Precautionary measures and planning strategy by the Government
After the 1999 Super Cyclone, that caused a huge amount of loss and casualties, Odisha has stepped up on its disaster management strategies. After the setting up of the Odisha State Disaster Management Authority, the cyclones Phailin, Hud Hud and Titli were easily dealt with. The government of Odisha stuck up to their ‘zero casualties’ policy for natural disasters.
Alerts were sent by IMD 5 days prior to the landfall. With improved forecasting facilities, the state was able to get the alerts on time. Around 1.2 million people were evacuated in less than 48 hours, 9000 shelters were made, and more than 45,000 volunteers were involved. Proper provisions were made for food, medicines and drinking water. Clear protocols were laid out for carrying out the relief operations. About 103 trains were cancelled.
In the last 20 years, Odisha has undergone a tremendous change. 879 multi-purpose cyclone shelters are built, while there were only 23 in 1999. 400 community volunteers are trained for every kind of disaster. The state government has sanctioned satellite phones for district collectors to have a better connection even in case of storms. Digital mobile radios have been set up to ensure that all the information are circulated properly among the officials.
A clear communication line was laid out between the government and the citizens. Messages were sent in bulk regarding all the updates. The “do’s” and “don’ts” instructions were made clear via many forms of media. Helpline numbers for every province were distributed. The government made sure of the fact that every warning and news reached the people. Early restoration of the network was planned out in a meeting with the telecom operators.
Even though the central had responded for relief before the cyclone, but there wasn’t much support received initially. The state stood up for its own help and was a real success to a great extent.
With thousands of volunteers and local community groups working together day and night, the state of Odisha was prepared for its battle with the Cyclone Fani.
The D-day report
On 3rd May 2019 during the early hours, Cyclone Fani made its landfall in Puri. Even though the effect of the storm had started the previous night medium drizzle, but as soon as it landed, it was all dark. The Puri Beach witnessed the raging waves, and the fear could be felt till Bhubaneswar. Just before the storm hit Odisha, everything was eerily silent, and the clouds had put up a dark shadow over the state.
After hitting the coast, the clouds went mad. With extremely harsh windy conditions, the rain droplets seemed to be dancing on the tunes of the air flow. No one dared to come out of their safe havens. Huge coconut trees were no longer standing upright with pride. People had their doors open for the little homeless creatures.
The terror had still not set in and then came the news of Fani getting worse. The windows of houses started trembling as the wind hit them with great force. At one moment, everything calmed down. The residents thought it was over. Even the rain slowed down, and the wind was under control. It was all quiet. Rather, in a weird way. As they say, the silence before the storm. And then it began, as everything was about to resume to its normal state. The wind speed took over. This time it had a power in it. The wrath of Nature unleashed. And it was just the beginning.
“The eye of the cyclone is completely inside Odisha.” The government updated. And all hell went loose. The ‘hiss’ sound of Fani was echoing all over Puri, Bhubaneswar, and Cuttack. And the cyclone did justice to its given name. The roofs of Kutcha houses were being taken away with the wind. Vehicles like motorbikes, cars and even buses toppled over. The trees were uprooted from the ground and were falling over houses and streets. Bhubaneswar, the capital city, was going through the same. Windows of huge buildings and tall apartments smashed and hit the rooms back. A tall crane fell over the neighboring house’s roof. School buses and cars were getting smashed under huge uprooted trees. People could see the destruction happening right in front of their eyes. Roofs of old houses cracked, and pieces of them were all over the place. The state turned deaf with all the painful cries, shattering glasses and wind noises.
During the late noons, the silence was back to being. This time it was the mourning silence of Nature.
Around 4 pm, when the cyclone was back on its track and out of Odisha, people came out of their houses to look at the devastating state that the cyclone left behind. And the scenery outside was heart-breaking. The place which was known for its lush green forests and tall coconut trees, stood barren. As it was close to getting dark, without electricity and network, it was difficult to have a better look at the loss.
The next morning when the sun rose to light the dark worlds, it felt suffocating. Bhubaneswar stood naked under the scorching heat of May. Puri roads were blocked by thousands of trees. The roads adjacent to the beach seemed invisible under the thick layer of beach soil. The main bus stand of Puri was in bits. The Airport had broken boards outside. Even the big malls had cracked and broken structure. The museums of the twin cities had major losses. Minor damages could be seen in Puri Temple. Places like Satapada, Chillika and Konark have ripped off their scenic beauty and were left in tatters. Seven districts, namely- Bhadrak, Kendrapada, Jagatsinghpur, Cuttack, Jajpur, Khurda and Puri have been severely affected. According to reports, more than 14,000 villages, 11 districts and 1 crore people have been affected.
Because of the well-planned disaster management strategy, the casualties were very less as compared to the 1999 Cyclone. Till now 64 deaths are reported and some injured. Due to the evacuation plan, people in the low-lying areas were safe, but their houses were destroyed. Almost all the electric poles were uprooted, and the fell all over the streets. Educational institutes and main offices suffered a huge loss in their infrastructure. Banks were shut. Money transactions were not possible. The network services became a curse.
At night, when it was demonic dark, a thick layer of smoke could be seen covering the whole capital city as a sheet. From a layman’s point of view, it might have looked like fog. But in reality, it was the smoke, dust and polluted air of the whole day which was not able to get filtered due to the lack of trees. Majority of the crops have been destroyed.
No work seemed possible. It looked like everything had stopped. There was no electricity even after a week. Puri will be in the dark for one month.
After the destructive cyclone of 1999, it had taken Odisha 20 years to recover. The state was glowing midst of the green blooms. With a wide variety of flora and fauna, it was always a great attraction for nature lovers worldwide. Odisha was home to a huge range of rare birds and species. But just in a short span of a few hours, everything was destroyed. All the hard work went into waste. And Odisha suffered a massive loss.
It felt like, ODISHA HAD TIME TRAVELLED 20 YEARS BACK.
Initiatives Taken Post-Fani
Even with such a powerful wind speed, there were very fewer casualties as compared to the 1999 cyclone and Odisha was praised worldwide. But the life in the affected regions had come to stand still. Even in the capital city, Bhubaneswar, it seemed impossible to connect with the family members. With such an immense loss to the public property, the economy of the state was deteriorating. The state didn’t give up. It fought.
Chief Minister Sri Naveen Patnaik donated his one year’s salary to the Chief Minister Relief Fund (CMRF). Some very helpful initiatives are taken by the state government. The state is very dependent on the agricultural sector and is famous for rice and seafood. Financial assistance of Rs 12,200 per Ha. to be provided to the fish farmers. Additional seed money of Rs 10,000 will be given to the affected Women Self Help Groups. Agricultural input subsidy shall be provided to all the small and marginal farmers. Compensation shall be provided towards the loss of animals at the rate of Rs. 30,000/- per milch cow and buffalo, Rs. 25,000 per draught animal and Rs. 3,000/- per goat.
Relief distribution among affected regions has been a great success so far. All families whose houses are completely or substantially damaged due to the cyclone will be sanctioned pucca houses. In all seven severely affected areas, water supply has been restored. Distribution of 24 lakh sanitary napkins free of cost to all adolescent girls and women in Puri District for 2 months along with 6 blocks: Nimapara, Gop, Astaranga, Kansa, Kakatpur and Satyabadi. Adequate stock of essential medicines available at all Health Care Facilities. Special attention to the handicrafts and handlooms sector is also given. School fees and school examination fees up to High School level in Government Schools shall be waived in the affected areas.
United We Stand
According to recent reports, Odisha incurs a loss of approximately Rs 12,000 Crore. In the initial days, during and after the cyclone, there was no coverage by the national media on the powerful cyclone. While some eminent media houses skipped the existence Odisha in their coverage about Cyclone Fani (whereas Odisha was the only state that suffered huge loss), others were busy with elections. No one outside Odisha had any idea of all these. On the other hand, the International media was of great help. Even when there was no support from outside the state, the people of Odisha stood strong and made it a point to fight for help and their rights.
After 2-3 days of sharing the videos on social media, the nation heard them. From Bollywood stars to bureaucrats, people extended help through donations to the Chief Minister Relief Fund (CMRF). The Prime Minister visited Odisha after 3 days. After an Ariel survey, he announced immediate assistance of Rs 1,000 Crore to Odisha. Andhra Government announced a financial aid of Rs 15 crores. Andhra Pradesh also sent the workforce to help with the electrical work. The capital city got electric power post 10 days of Fani. Parts of Puri to be electrified in some days.
At this time of crisis, people of all religion, caste and color joined hands together to help recover Odisha. Gurudwara Singh Sabha is providing Langar and drinking water on a daily basis to help the needy people. Thousands of youth volunteered to help in the relief distribution process.
With a huge loss to nature, Fani left no stone unturned. But the people stood strong. It’s very heart wrenching to look at the ruined state of the Mother Earth. Many campaigns have been launched to restore the beautiful state of Odisha. NGO’s are volunteering to plant atleast one lakh trees around the city. The before and after photos can crush up anyone’s heart. Everyone is doing their own bit.
The electricity is still not restored fully, and the network problem persists. Heat waves have started hitting Odisha since 10th May, and it is unusually hot there. But even in this blazing heat, the work has not stopped. Hundreds of workers are continuing under the fiery sun. It might take more 20 years to re-build Odisha and go back to being normal. But the people of Odisha are not ready to give up yet. Let’s all come together to RE-BUILD ODISHA and help restore natural beauty. Because it’s just not the loss of materialistic things, but it’s an enormous loss to our own environment.