Cyclone Fani that made landfall near the city of Puri in Odisha on Friday ravaged a large part of the state, leaving a trail of destruction with several houses being flattened, telecommunications infrastructure destroyed, electricity disrupted, and broken tree branches strewn on several major roads besides 37 deaths (at last count). While the “extremely severe” cyclonic storm, which was said to be one of the most severe storms that have hit the Indian subcontinent in the last few decades, caused huge material loss, mortality is relatively low compared to similar storms that the country has witnessed in the recent past. The cyclonic storm that hit Balasore district of Odisha in 1971 killed more than 10,000 people and rendered lakhs of people homeless; Andhra Pradesh cyclone in 1977 is believed to have killed at least 10,000 people though the official figure is 8547; and the estimate death toll of the super cyclone 05B that struck Odisha in 1999 is said to be 30,000 though the Indian government has put the numbers at 9887. The coastal states are prone to cyclones with storms hitting the region almost every year though the intensity varies. Despite alerts being sent out days before the landfall, India had failed to minimise fatalities in the past. But the way the Odisha government and the Centre handled the recent Cyclone Fani was impressive. It was a dramatic transformation from the huge loss of lives that often comes with such natural calamities. This time, Odisha government succeeded in preventing a possible catastrophe through precaution, weather alerts, preparation, and active participation of the masses. It was not easy to evacuate more than 10 lakh people to safer locations but the authorities did; tourists were asked to leave the coastal areas, more than 100 trains were cancelled, fishermen were advised not to venture out into the sea, people living along the path of the storm were asked to evacuate, and the Indian army was put on alert for rescue operations in case such a need arises. This elaborate preparation paid off. It sent out a clear message to the world that timely measures and positive response from well-informed public can help minimise casualties even if disaster is not averted completely. Both the authorities and the general public should learn how to manage natural calamities as more cyclones could hit the eastern coastal lines more frequently due to climate change.
While cyclones may not make its landfall in the north-eastern states, it has and will continue to affect the region as storms that hit the eastern coastal lines of the country usually result in incessant rain in most parts of Northeast besides high-speed winds that cause damage to property. The region is vulnerable to natural calamities as it is situated in an earthquake-prone zone and landslides are widespread in rainy season due to its topography but it is obvious that most parts of the region are not equipped to deal with such situations – that’s what past incidents have indicated. The government authorities should ensure that the people follow certain standards while building houses besides creating awareness on disaster management as it can help avert possible destruction from floods, storm and other natural calamities. With monsoon just a few weeks away, it’s time for the people to check their preparedness or else history will repeat itself.