Natural Disasters

Cyclone Amphan: Tidal flooding, heavy winds pound coastal Odisha

Gale uproots trees, electric poles; saline embankments cave in 

By Ashis Senapati
Published: Wednesday 20 May 2020
Super Cyclone Amphan hit the coastal Odisha on May 20, triggering massive tidal flooding in low-lying seaside regions. Credit: Ashis Senapati

Super Cyclone Amphan hit the coastal Odisha on May 20, triggering massive tidal flooding in low-lying seaside regions. Tidal waves caused by the cyclonic storm battered the shores of Balasore, Bhadrak, Jagatsinghpur, Puri, Ganjam and Kendrapara districts and wreaked havoc at several other places.

Huge tidal waves ingressed in the seaside areas. In many coastal pockets, saline embankments caved in and were in serious threat of collapse. Villages stood exposed to high tides and flooding.

The cyclone buffeted low-lying coasts, pushing thousands to move into emergency cyclone shelters. Hundreds of mud-walled thatched houses were destroyed by torrential rain and wind in the worst-affected Balasore and Bhadrak districts bordering West Bengal.

Hundreds of trees were uprooted in the gale. The cyclone swept electric poles, wires and other infrastructure, said Pradeep Kumar Jena, special relief commissioner, Odisha.

Heavy downpour that began in early hours of May 20 left many low-lying areas in under knee-deep water, paralysing normal life. Panic gripped seaside villages of Satabhaya, Gupti, Pentha Jamboo, Batighar, Suniti, Kansarbadadandua, Ramanagar, Baulakani in Kendrapara district.

In Jagatsinghpur district, Dahibara, Ambiki Balitutha, Chatua, Japa, Krushnachandrapur, Pasmapur villages were the most affected. 

Strong tidal waves hit these villages on May 20 morning and caused extensive damage to agricultural land and houses.

Rainwater entered the villages close to the shore, said Kanhu Charan Dhir, additional district magistrate, Paradip. As precautionary measures, around 20 ships from the anchorage areas were moved to safer water at Paradip port, said Rinkesh Roy, chairman, Paradip Port Trust.

Amphan is the 14th pre-monsoon cyclone to hit Odisha out of 137 cyclones since 1804, said Uma Charan Mohanty, former professor, Center for Atmospheric Sciences, Indian Institute of Technology, New Delhi.

Odisha and West Bengal have been wracked by a history of cyclones, Mohanty said.

A cyclonic storm inundated around 10 kilometre-long coast in Balasore district on 27 May, 1823. The Odisha coast suffered severe cyclones in May 1834 and April 1840. In April 1850, hundreds of people were killed in the cyclone at False Point (now in Kendrapara district) and Midnapore (now in West Bengal).

Another cyclone hit False Point to Sagar Island in West Bengal on May 26, 1887. On 23 May 1893, Balasore, Puri and Cuttack district faced severe cyclone, said Mohanty.

The problems that administration faced after the British East India Company conquered Odisha in October 1803, were largely about dealing with the natural disasters.

Descriptive cyclone and surge data is available for the 19th and 20th centuries. The India Meteorological  Department (IMD) started providing more coherent data from 1875.

Mohanty said they used two different, slightly overlapping, databases during their study on the history of cyclones in Odisha. The first one was the cyclne database by IMD and covered cyclonic events from 1877 till today.

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