It seems like Lord Jagannath’s Rath Yatra, cyclone has become an annual event in Odisha. The severe cyclone Phailin hit Gopalpur coast on October 12, 2013 evening while cyclone Hudhud hit Visakhapatnam exactly on the same day in 2014, but this time before noon. Hudhud also caused devastation in southern parts of Odisha.
With two cyclones, one after another, causing devastation, the question making rounds is what is there in store for us in 2015? No one can say for sure that another cyclone would not hit the State next year.
In fact, Odisha has turned out to be a disaster-prone zone. Therefore, what should be the Government’s approach? The Government has, however, put in place a model — that of ‘zero casualty’ — to save human lives from the disaster.
While the human casualty in 1999 Super Cyclone was about 12,000, it was reduced to 21 in the cyclone Phailin in 2013. Now the number has further been reduced to three.
However, is it possible to avoid cyclones in the eastern parts of the country? Odisha has a coastline of 480 km exposing it to the vagaries of cyclones and floods in the last 105 years. The State has been adversely affected 95 times during this period.
“The frequency and intensity of cyclones in the State has been increasing due to climate change,” a Draft Report of the State Action Plan for Climate Change (SAPCC) reveals. While the State Government has been making plans to create green corridor and coastal highway, scientists associated with climate change opine that the State is a victim of vagaries of monsoon leading to drought, heavy precipitation in some pockets leading to floods and is also regular victim of tropical cyclone. “Many of these events are triggered by warming of the sea surface,” the report said.
Though the State administration has been able to reduce human casualty in disasters, can it bring down the temperature of the sea surface? Now, it’s a challenge for the scientific community of India to think about the formula on how to manage disasters by maintaining the sea surface temperature.
Protection of a number of human lives during cyclones in 2013 and 2014 has been possible mostly due to the efficiency of our scientists. Take the instance of Hudhud. The IMD located a cyclonic circulation in sea near Andaman on October 6, which later took different shapes to become a very severe cyclonic storm that hit the coast at a speed of 170 kmph on October 12. The scientists were watching every movement of the system and finally warned the administration about the cyclone.
This type of warning was not there when the Super Cyclone hit Odisha in 1999. Just during a span of 15 years, India has developed a lot in terms of weather forecasting and oceanography. Now scientists make proper use of satellites, radars and other equipment and make exact prediction, even the specific locations where cyclones would make landfall.
However, challenges are many. Despite preparedness, Odisha this time experienced a surprising event along the coast. A sudden tidal surge flooded Puri coast and also many parts of Rajnagar area in Kendrapara district. Neither the IMD nor any other agency could forecast the tidal surge.
“We are surprised over the incident at Puri and Rajnagar, just a few hours ahead of the landfall of cyclone Hudhud. We have urged the IMD to study the phenomenon,” Special Relief Commissioner P K Mohapatra said.
This surprise tidal surge claimed one life of the total three persons killed in the cyclone this time.Now Odisha has implemented a major World Bank funded Integrated Coastal Zone Management Project (ICZMP) focused on coastal adaption. One of the key priorities of the project is prediction of sea level rise through appropriate modeling. The first such study has been done here by using equipment like wave rider buoy, tide gauge, current meter and others. “This will significantly enhance State’s preparedness,” the scientists associated with ICZMP said.
The ICZMP also conducts study on impact of global warming on the coastal ecosystem. While pinning hopes on the scientific community, the State Government cannot leave the people to the fury of nature. In the last century, the Indian sub-continent experienced 1,019 cyclonic disturbances of which 890 were along the eastern coast and 260 systems had made landfall along the Odisha coast.
Out of the total severe storms in the Bay of Bengal region, 15 per cent — which is one in six — affect Odisha coast. The severe storms of 1909, 1910, 1912, 1914, 1967, 1971 and the Super Cyclone in 1999 are known for their damages and devastations. The super cyclone was the incident of the highest magnitude in terms of the wind speed, loss of life, devastation and human miseries exceeding any such event in the century.
Among the eastern states, Odisha has reasons to be worried as 29 per cent of the total disturbances affect the State’s coast. Vulnerability of the State is relatively more in comparison to other States like West Bengal (14 per cent), Andhra Pradesh (13 per cent) and Tamil Nadu (7 per cent).
The revisit or recurrence time of a severe storm to the Odisha coast is around four years and for storms, it is nearly two years, which is much less than that of the other States.
Taking into account storms and severe storms together, the recurrence time is 1.3 years for Odisha followed by 1.8 years for Andhra Pradesh and 2.4 years for West Bengal and Tamil Nadu.
As Odisha is on the forefront in the eastern coast to face brunt of calamities, mostly cyclones, it needs to take steps to mitigate the challenge.
Only keeping some mechanized saws or constructing shelter homes will not save the State; it needs to do much more scientific endeavors to overcome the menace that eats into the State’s economy as well, feel many.
On October 29, 1999 a super cyclone struck Odisha, causing widespread destruction, with at least 10,000 lives lost and an estimated 1.5 million people rendered homeless. Unofficial estimates suggest those figures could be much higher.
Also called the Cyclone 05B and Paradip Cyclone, it was the deadliest storm to hit India after 1971. The Joint Typhoon Warning Centre issued a disturbance alert on October 23. Another alert was issued on October 25 when the tropical disturbance reached the Andaman Sea. Soon, it became Tropical Depression 5B over the Malay Peninsula, and travelled northwestward. It became Tropical Storm 5B on October 26.
The storm gained in strength and became a cyclone in the Bay of Bengal on October 27, with a velocity of up to 300 km/hr. On October 29, it hit Odisha between Ersama and Balikuda in the Jagatsinghpur district, southwest of Paradip.
The cyclone battered the coastal districts for more than eight hours. A tidal wave that swept across low-lying areas near the coast, wiped out entire villages. Puri, Kendrapara, Khurda and Jagatsinghpur were among the districts worst affected by the cyclone, which was the second storm in a fortnight; the one on October 17, 1999 had struck Ganjam district and left at least 150 people dead in the state.
Though the capital city of Bhubaneswar was spared intensive damage by the October 29 storm, the signs of the havoc were visible everywhere, with reports indicating that even the gates of the then Odisha Chief Minister Giridhar Gamang's house were blocked by uprooted trees. A shell-shocked Gamang, speaking to a wire agency hours after the storm hit his state, said: “The devastation is beyond imagination . . . I have never seen Bhubaneswar and Cuttack cut off from the rest of the country in my life.”
The state government, unprepared to handle a storm of this magnitude, sought help of the Army and the Air Force to carry out massive relief and rescue operations.
Initially, the extent of damage was difficult to ascertain, with the cyclone tearing down bridges and making roads and railways impassable. Rescue efforts were further hampered by the complete breakdown of all communication links with affected areas, and the continuing bad weather.
Defence personnel using helicopters to drop food parcels reported thousands of people stranded on rooftops or pockets of high ground.
Standing crops were destroyed in nine coastal districts while tens of thousands of livestock died. Because of contamination of drinking water by human bodies and decomposed carcasses of animals, hundreds of people contracted chronic diarrhoea and other illnesses.
“When we found ourselves alive after the cyclone, we thought we were lucky. But now we think it would have been better had we died,” Sudhakar Nayak, a 32-year-old farmer from a village near Paradip, told a reporter. “Anything would have been better than the way we are living now.”
On November 1, 1999 a helicopter was attacked in Paradip by angry residents, while carrying the then Defence Minister George Fernandes, Tribal Affairs Minister Jual Oram and Minister for Mines Naveen Patnaik. They were protesting the lack of relief supplies, medicines and drinking water. “We are not here to listen to speeches. We want food and water,” they shouted.
“The full extent of the havoc caused by the cyclone in Orissa will not be known for some time, but what is already evident is the total unpreparedness of both the state and central governments for the disaster,” Hindustan Times said in an editorial. “What is unpardonable is that it was not something which could have caught the authorities by surprise, like an earthquake.”
Ten days after the monster storm swept Odisha, receding waters and opening up of a passage into the interiors of the state’s battered coastal areas framed a horrifying picture. In several blocks around the Paradip port in the Jagatsinghpur district, rescuers and aid workers discovered mounds of corpses in nearly every village, rotting alongside tonnes of carcasses.
In dozens of villages, there was barely anyone left alive to mourn the dead. Mass cremations were carried out to check the spread of diseases.
The relief efforts came under pointed criticism. In a damning article,the Outlook magazine reported: “The civic administration, critical for moving relief and saving people, is also in a mess in several districts. A typical case is that of a severely affected coastal district, some 100 km from Bhubaneswar. Its collector was transferred four days after disaster struck, the additional district magistrate’s post still lies vacant and the superintendent of police is on leave and has been replaced by a tainted officer to prevent mobs from looting trucks. The elected parliamentary representative, meanwhile, stays put in Delhi after making a cursory aerial survey and the local legislator lands up a good four days after the calamity.”
If the 1999 storm had a silver lining, it could well be the fact that 14 years later, in October 2013, when another major storm, Cyclone Phailin, hit the Odisha coast, the state administration was, by all accounts, much better prepared and equipped to deal with it. Consequently, the loss to life and property was minimised. That’s a lesson which other state governments need to learn too.
Also on this day:
1931 — Vaali, Tamil poet and lyricist, was born
1988 — Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay, social reformer and freedom fighter, passed away
2005 — Three bomb blasts in Delhi killed 62 people and injured more than 200