Nestled along the shore for ages, the coastal community in Odisha found it hard to believe that a severe cyclone was going to strike their homes at a time when the sun was shining bright, making the evacuation process challenging.
Describing the massive evacuation before Cyclone Phailin struck, Ganjam collector Krishan Kumar said it was a hard task convincing people in the coastal areas that they needed to be moved out.
"We started the evacuation process on October 11 at about 4 in the evening. But the sun was shining bright and people told our evacuation teams that they are wrong that a cyclone will come tomorrow," Kumar told PTI.
Some people told us that "you are outsider and you do not know the sea," he said.
But thankfully, they now know that it was for their good, said Kumar.
The Collector, whose district is the worst affected in terms of damage to property and crops in the state, said nine deaths have occurred in the cyclone and he does not anticipate more casualties in his area now.
Close to five days before the landfall at Gopalpur, the collector's office here had turned into a warzone with meetings starting as early as 8 AM and finishing till 1 in the morning.
The Collector said all people available on ground including civil volunteer teams were pressed into action to tour the coastal areas and spread the message of the cyclone closing in and hitting the coast on October 11.
"Evacuation continued all night on October 11 and we brought out the last person till the afternoon of October 12. It was a herculean task and it was a team effort of the district administration. State Government did a great job," Kumar said.
Kumar said the challenge of Odisha government directive to ensure zero casualty was so enormous that all the top district officials were in close coordination, 24x7.
"We turned our offices into home and even ate together. Phones and wireless kept buzzing and there was not one moment when we were not talking on the communication devices," Kumar's deputy Ashish, who is sub collector of Ganjam, said.
While evacuation was the huge exercise, now the relief and rehabilitation will test their nerves, he said. Kumar is a 2002 batch IAS officer. An MBBS, the officer has also worked as Collector between 2008 and 2011 of Kandhamal, which suffered riots in 2002