The juggernaut battered parts of India and Bangladesh in its trail. Closer home, it wreaked havoc in the lives of 1.48 crore people with 45 fatalities in its aftermath.
Considered to be the most severe cyclonic storm since the super cyclone of 1999, Cyclone Fani (pronounced “Foni”) hit Odisha state causing intense destruction in its path.
Originating from a tropical depression that formed to the West of Sumatra on April 26, 2019, the cyclone gained momentum post April 30 and reached its peak intensity on May 2. It manifested as a high-end extremely severe cyclonic storm (equivalent of a high-end Category 4 major hurricane).
The dawn of May 3 witnessed the strengthened cyclone make landfall over eastern coastal belt of India. Parts of West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh – states with coastlines hugging the Bay of Bengal – also faced the wrath of Fani but it was Odisha state which bore the brunt of it.
By the early morning of May 4, the storm moved north-northeastwards to weaken gradually and entered into the Gangetic region of West Bengal as a ‘severe cyclonic storm’. Later, it moved further north-northwestwards and emerged into Bangladesh on May 4 evening with lesser intensity as a ‘cyclonic storm’. Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cyclone_Fani
In its peak, on May 1, #CycloneFani spanned a massive 700 kilometers (435 miles). Winds gusted at more than 190 kmh. Torrential rains lashed at the affected areas. True to its name – Fani (‘hood of a snake’) – spewed its venom submerging entire villages. The severe cyclonic storm uprooted electricity poles and damaged power supply lines, plunging several villages into darkness. It caused extensive damage to homes, crops and telecoms infrastructure. Petrol stations, banking, health and transportation services were also badly hit.
The weather satellites kept a vigilant eye to measure the impact of the storm. The Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) gave yellow warnings as the cyclone grew stronger and came closer to the Indian coast. Even as early as April 21, IMD had forecast about the formation of a low-pressure area in the Equatorial Indian Ocean and south Bay of Bengal.
Lives were needlessly lost. The effect could have been even more severe if not for the timely intervention of the Government of Odisha. The government evacuated 1.2 million residents from vulnerable coastal areas to higher ground and others were moved a few miles inland. Several warnings were broadcast over electronic media, sirens and public-address (PA) systems. 2.6 million text messages were sent out to warn citizens about the cyclone. About 7,000 kitchens were set up to feed the evacuees across 9,000 storm shelters.
In addition to the state government, Navy, Air Force and Coastal Guards were put on high alert for timely rescue operations. The National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) had deployed 28 teams in Odisha, 12 in Andhra Pradesh and 6 teams in West Bengal. Aircrafts were readied to help assess the impact of the cyclone and aid in rescue operations. Medical teams were shifted to the devastated areas to augment relief work. A team of 43,000+ volunteers and 1,000+ emergency workers put in incredible efforts to restore the affected areas.
2,055 workers, shift operators and staff from Energy Dept., Andhra Pradesh were deputed to help with power rectification work. Relief material, medical teams and diving teams were also shifted to Odisha to strengthen the ground support efforts. Telangana state also sent their teams to help with restoring of electricity and other essential services. Other states like Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat and Chhattisgarh offered monetary contribution to Odisha towards relief and rehabilitation efforts.
Telecom operators BSNL, Airtel, Vodafone, Idea and Jio merged at an early point to provide seamless and uninterrupted mobile and internet services in the cyclone-affected areas. They opened up free SMS and intra circle roaming within these circles.
The rescue work done by the NDRF along with the Odisha Disaster Rapid Action Force (ODRAF) teams is commendable. At the same time, the evacuation and rehabilitation went a lot smoother because of the combined efforts of various teams and volunteers. Together, they ensured speedy rescue, relief and rehabilitation activities that helped mitigate some of the worst impact of the cyclone.
The Central government announced the release of Rs1000 crore (US$145 million) assistance to Cyclone Fani-affected states. The Odisha state government in turn will pay compensation to the victims and the amount may alleviate some of the financial difficulties faced by them.
Post Fani, residents of the temple town of Puri continued to remain hungry as the community kitchens were not fully operational.
Some of the victims received paltry ration and cash compensation of Rs 2,000. Others waited with longing eyes to receive even a meagre part of that handout, for their very survival.
Groups of people left the state capital due to acute shortage of essential services. Even 5 days post the cyclone, incidents were reported in Bhubaneswar where the residents continued to face severe power and water shortage.
The miseries of the people were further compounded during these trying times with a high humidity level, which soared above 90% in the coastal districts.
Restoration of water supply is the highest priority of Odisha government. While 80% of electricity consumers are expected to get power by May 10, the government expects to fully restore power supply in the affected areas by May 12.
Post the aftermath of the cyclone, the lives of a few affected people are slowly and painfully limping back to normalcy. But for most others, who lost their loved ones, their painstakingly-built homes and their very source of livelihood, things will never be normal again.
The memories of the devastating cyclone may fade with time, but the trauma of loss will remain with the victims for ever. Monetary compensation can mitigate their losses only minimally. Still, ever resilient, the people of Odisha are battered and bent today, but not broken.
Cyclone Fani – another reminder that in the face of nature, a human is just a small and insignificant speck – hapless and vulnerable.
A diligent citizen, nature enthusiast, occasional blogger, avid reader, and sporadic photographer; Kolla Krishna Madhavi likes to express her personal views with a dash of mirchi ka tadka. With 20+ years of corporate WEX, including the more recent stints at IIIT-H and Google, Madhavi opted to write full-time. She can be reached at [email protected]