Fani fallout: It could have been far worse, say Odias as they restore normalcy

Updated 9:12 PM, 4 May, 2019
Cyclone
The government has listed the most-affected districts. Photo: PTI File

As Fani ripped through the cities and villages of Odisha after making a landfall in Puri on May 3, raging at a wind speech of 175kmph, residents of the eastern Indian state stayed indoors, watching – some even capturing on camera – the sound and fury of the storm. For many, the stormy winds re-ignited memories of the devastating super cyclone of 1999 which had claimed more than 10,000 lives.

Many took to social media to share pictures of the raging storm. Videos emerged showing gusty winds flinging over a huge bus and dragging it along the road like a piece of scrap. The toppling over of a massive crane – used at a construction site for a skyscraper in Bhubaneswar – over the adjacent rows of houses was one of the frightful sites that went viral on social media. Another showed winds blowing off a roof of the AIIMS building in Bhubaneswar.

Lull after the storm

The morning (May 4) saw life come to a standstill. While Puri and Khurda were the most affected, the cyclone also wreaked havoc in Cuttack, Bhadrak, Kendrapara, Jagatsinghpur, Balasore, Mayurbhanj, Keonjhar, Dhenkanal and Nayagarh.

City roads were scattered with broken billboards, shards of glasses from windowpanes and shop cabinets, mangled remains of vehicles that were left outdoors and uprooted trees blocking the road. The storm had twisted telephone towers in many places, disrupting communication. As the cyclone has severely damaged electric poles and power transmitters, electricity is yet to be restored in several parts of the state. Telephone connection was still down in several places of the state.

The situation was grimmer in villages. Even as fewer casualties were reported due to the government’s massive evacuation of more than 1 million people to cyclone shelters, thatched houses were floored in several districts and crops destroyed in the heavy rains that flooded villages.

Strain of resilience

Odisha government which has been tirelessly working towards evacuation, relief and rescue measures since the storm was predicted by weathermen, has been lauded in many quarters for its preparedness.

The UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (ODRR) was all praise for Indian government’s zero casualty policy for cyclones as well as the Indian Meteorological Department’s timely warning that helped reduce the number of casualties. A report in the New York Times titled ‘How Do You Save a Million People From a Cyclone? Ask a Poor State in India’, extolled the extraordinary efforts shown by the Odisha government in expediting evacuation and relief measures ahead of the cyclone.

Constantly in touch with people through social media and other electronic mediums, the government sent out messages to people to not panic and remain indoors during the cyclone, ahead of the storm. The CMO’s office urged social media users to use the hashtag #CycloneFaniSOS to tweet for help to @SRC_Odisha.

The response to the cyclone was equally quick. Government sources say, restoration of roads and power started immediately after the storm weakened on May 3. As per a PTI report, the Odisha government started restoration work on war footing on Saturday (May 4) across 10,000 village and urban areas. Around 2,000 emergency workers, along with civil society organisations, personnel of the NDRF, the Odisha Disaster Rapid Action Force (ODRAF) and one lakh officials, are engaged in the restoration work, Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik said in a statement, before leaving for an aerial survey of the affected areas.

Flight services were resumed within 24 hours even though the Bhubaneswar airport was heavily battered by the storm.

“The Chief Minister reviewed the situation yesterday. Power infrastructure is completely battered. The maximum damage has been reported from Puri, Khurda and Cuttack districts followed by Ganjam and Gajapati. Although Puri has been severely hit, the complete assessment of damage hasn’t been done yet. Almost all electric poles in these districts have been levelled and roads are covered with debris. Telecom services were completely down yesterday, but have been restored in Cuttack and Bhubaneswar. Roads have also been cleared in these cities,” said Bibhuti Bhusan Routray, Strategic Communications Consultant, CM’s office, Odisha.

Help from the community

United by the catastrophe, people have come out to help each other, whether it is sharing food, water or helping government workers in relief and restoration. As we talk, hundreds of NDRF, ODRAF and Odisha Fire Services personnel – the unsung heroes – are clearing roads and helping out locals across the state. Helping them are youths from the Biju Yuva Vahini and good Samaritans from organisations like Oxfam, UN, World Bank and World View among other NGOs. The Quick Action Team of INS Chilika has been deployed to assist in cutting and clearing of trees in affected districts. Government departments like Housing and Urban Development Skill Development and Technical Education Department have chipped in with relief operations across the state.

“There is no electricity and communication. We are dependent on the inverter for power. The roads are blocked and are being cleared by the NDRF and Odisha Fire Services. Thatched houses have taken a hit. Several coconut trees have been levelled to the ground and crops have been destroyed. But we have volunteers from many NGOs helping government agencies with relief and restoration work,” said Dipti Ranjan Mallick, a resident of Nankar village under Indalo panchayat in Kendrapara district, who works as a lecturer at Kotpad Government College, Koraput.

“The government here is doing a great job. Electricity is yet to be restored in Cuttack. Here municipality is providing drinking water to residents twice a day through generator since morning. The government has introduced special train and flight services from today itself to carry tourist stuck in Odisha. We hear bus communication may resume by tomorrow. But the internet and telephone services have been severely hampered due the cyclone,” says Sucharita Sahoo, a resident of Cuttack, who works as an Exhibition Assistant at DAVP.

The Odisha government has appealed all to donate to the Chief Minister’s Relief Fund (cmrfodisha.gov.in).