Experience of super cyclone1999 prompts people to move to safer places; evacuation continues
Almost all the 468 seaside villages of Kendrapada, Jagatsinghpur, Puri, Ganjam and Khurdha in Odisha wore a deserted look on Saturday as cyclone Phailin approached the coast of Odisha.
With wind speed steadily picking up and with incessant downpour, people's worst fears may come true on Saturday evening, the expected time of Phailin’s landfall. Reports trickling in from vulnerable areas said trees have got uprooted and power supply snapped. Past experience of the1999 super cyclone is the main reason for the mass exodus of people from seaside villages to safer places. In the super cyclone that hit the Odisha coast October 29, 1999, more than 10,000 people perished in Kendrapada and Jagatsinghpur districts.
The unprecedented cyclonic waves in 1999 levelled many seaside villages of Earasama block in Jagatsinghpur district and villages across the region. Earasama was hit the hardest and thousands were displaced.
Prasanta Mirdha (19) of the seaside village of Ambiki in Earasama block is one of the survivors of the 1999 super cyclone.
“Fourteen years ago, my life changed forever. When the super cyclone struck this area, I survived as I was taking shelter in the only two storey pucca house in our village. But I lost 15 members of my family, including my parents, cousins, aunties, uncles, a brother and a sister. My family members ignored the forecast for cyclone. But this time, I along with all the villagers have left our houses on Friday to safer places. I am residing in the two storey school in our village," said Prasanta.
The fishing villages of Sandakuda, Athabankia, Sialia, Padmapur, Kharinashi,Batighar, Kansarbadadandua, Ambikia, Goda , Padmapur and other villages in Kendrapada and Jagatsinghpur looked like ghost villages as all the residents left their houses.
Panchanana Mirdha (44), a fisher of Ambiki village, had lost all his six family members in the 1999 cyclone. The village is just one kilometre from the sea. Mirdha’s kucha house was destroyed by the powerful waves surging from the sea. "We had huddled together on the thatched roof of our house, but the big trees carried by the waves knocked down two of my children, parents and wife," said Mirdha.
“We ignored cyclone warning in 1999; the past lesson forced us to leave our seaside village on Friday. In 1999, people used to live only in thatched houses in our village. But after super cyclone, the government and other non-government agencies built cyclone shelters, pucca school buildings, hospitals and other houses. Many residents also constructed pucca houses because of which we are now safe in our village," said Mirdha.
People question disaster preparedness
People who have moved to the cyclone sheleters have many complaints. They said the authorities have not stocked sufficient food in the cyclone shelters. A cyclone shelter in Batighar village is leaking, and so the residents are now residing in the school, said Arjun Mandal, a resident. "Six years ago, the state government constructed a meteorological centre in the seaside village Kharinashi under Mahakalapada block and installed many valuable weather forecasting instruments to warn residents about cyclone and tsunami. But for the past three years, all the instruments are gathering dust. Now, the meteorological centre is being used by some residents to store paddy bags," said Narahari Samal of Kharinashi.
Meanwhile, over 500,000 people have been evacuated to the safety of 2,000 cyclone shelters, school and college buildings and panchayat office buildings. “Evacuation process is still on. Our priority is to save precious human lives," said special relief commissioner P K Mahapatra.
Five years ago, the Odisha State Disaster Mitigation Authority identified 328 villages located within 1.5 km of the coastline in six coastal districts. Sixty-four sea-side villages of Kendrapada district, 28 coastal villages of Jagatsinghpur district, 88 villages of Puri and 44 villages of Ganjam district have been identified as prone to cyclone and tsunami.
Similarly, 63 villages of Balasore district and 41 villages in neighbouring Bhadrak district have been identified as vulnerable, said Mohapatra.
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