How Phailin was different from super cyclone 1999

Improvements in weather forecasting and disaster preparedness, and lessons learnt from 1999, made all the difference

By Jyotsna Singh
Published: Tuesday 15 October 2013

For three to four days before cyclone Phailin hit Odisha and Andhra Pradesh, memories of the 1999 super cyclone made authorities and people fearful of what the cyclone would bring. The super cyclone devastated vast stretches of the state and so do did Phailin. But there is a big difference between what happened then and now—over 10,000 people were killed in Odisha in October 1999, while Phailin's toll was less than 30.

The intensity of cyclone Phailin, measured by wind speed, storm surge and rainfall, was also different—the super cyclone being far more intense on all counts. However, improvements in weather forecasting and disaster preparedness, after lessons learnt from 1999, proved crucial in reducing the extent of the disaster. A six-point comparison between the two cyclones:

Better forecast: Weather forecast has improved tremendously since 1999. Data collection of over the past decade has made climate models more precise and accurate.

"We can track a cyclone more accurately and precisely now. The models have improved, as well as the amount of data that we have fed into them," says A D Rao, head of Centre for Atmospheric Sciences at the Indian Institute of Technology-Delhi.

Nature of the cyclone: The landfall of the storm in 1999 was delayed by 30 hours. It hung near the coastline for almost 11 hours, causing maximum damage. Phailin's made the landfall three hours after the predicted time.

"Physical movement of the storm was far more devastating last time," says M Shashidhar Reddy, vice chairperson of National Disaster Management Authority.

Better disaster preparedness: In 1999, preparedness of the Odisha government was poor. Andhra Pradesh was better prepared and helped Odisha overcome the disaster situation. "Odisha did not even have instruments to cut trees that fell on the roads," says Reddy.

Since then, Odisha has improved its disaster preparedness and management. It has built 200 cyclone shelters. The government runs schools, anganwadis and community centres in them to ensure regular maintenance.

"Under a World bank project called the National Cyclone Risk Mitigation, 148 more shelters are being built. Twenty-eight of them are functional and proved useful when Phailin hit the coast," informs Reddy.

It is a Rs 1,497-crore project. In Phase-I of the project (2010-2015), only Odisha and Andhra Pradesh are being covered. Andhra is getting Rs 770 crore to improve disaster management, while Odisha's share is Rs 640 crore.

Setting up of communication means: "The communication means and protocols have improved. This time, NDMA managed the channel of communication from the Central government level to the district level," says Reddy. Timely communication ensured the authorities got three to four days to prepare. The key was evacuation, moving people away from unsafe places.

In the aftermath of Phailin, Andhra Pradesh has set up its National Disaster Management Force, a recommendation that had been lying with the state government for many years

Setting up of disaster management force: Both Odisha and Andhra have their own personnel to deal with disaster—Odisha Disaster Rapid Action Force and Andhra Pradesh State Disaster Response Force.

Mock drills: NDMA conducts mock drills to check and prepare local authorities and people for disaster and help reduce damage to the minimum. "Odisha state has been conducting a mock drill every June 19 since 2006 in areas like Jagatsingpur district and Paradip, which are cyclone prone. This also helps in managing disaster and reduce casualty," says Reddy. 


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