Is the worst of the cyclone over? Well, it is too early to hazard a guess. But, the way reports are showing Phailin's weakening course off Odisha towards north-northeast with minimal casualties, it seems the worst is over, thanks to an accurate prediction and massive evacuation efforts by the state government which have paid off.
A super cyclone, which had hit Odisha in 1999, had left close to 10,000 people dead. But, this time it seems the state and the central governments acted in time on the Met department's graphic details of the course, intensity and time of the cyclone and minimised the damage.
Even the forecast of Indian meteorological department, coordination efforts of home ministry, Odisha and Andhra Pradesh governments and National Disaster Management Authority came handy in mitigating the impact of the cyclone, especially in terms of casualties, along the eastern coastline which faced the nature's fury.
Over 8 lakh people along the coastal region of Odisha and Andhra Pradesh were evacuated well in time which helped minimise human casualties to eight people. They were shifted to safer 500-odd cyclone shelters equipped with medical facilities and meals facilities. The cyclone shelters have been constructed under the national cyclone risk mitigation project, a World Bank-assisted initiative, have two-storeyed structures and can withstand wind-speeds up to 300 kmph.
The government had also engaged over 3,000 personnel of the National Disaster Response Force, 2,000 army personnel in its evacuation plan and kept 18 helicopters, 12 aircraft and two war ships ready for rescue and relief operations.
"Our efforts have paid off well. The cyclone impact was minimum," vice-chairman of National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) M Shasidhar Reddy said.
At the landfall in Odisha's Gopalpur, cyclone Phailin was hovering around at a wind-speeds of over 200 kmph.
The Doppler radar in Bhubaneswar, which gives precise coordinates in terms of geographical spread, intensity and timing of cyclones helped authorities prepared better.
This helped early warning to the disaster management authorities and wider dissemination of the cyclone information through media and timely evacuation of people.
"Our alert is almost accurate. Media has also played an important role in disseminating the cyclone warning," director general of Indian Meteorology Department L S Rathore said.
The National Executive Council, which was almost non-functional till the Uttarakhand rains disaster, has been reactivated.
"The joint efforts have helped us plan well and could reduce the damage significantly," National Disaster Response Force chief Krishna Chowdhary said.
It may be recalled that the US weather agencies overestimated the cyclone strength and assigned it a Category 5 status, which corresponded to the super cyclone worse than Katrina. This caused a lot of panic. However, this helped Indian Met officials zero in on the exact details and make a workable prediction.
In fact, the London-based Tropical Storm and the US Navy's Joint Typhoon Warning Centre had predicted a wind speed clocking 315 kmph. However, the Indian met officials predicted the speed to be around 220 kmph and its path which proved exact and helped save many lives.
Swaraj Paul praises govt efforts
Lord Swaraj Paul has praised the Indian authorities for their superb handling of Phailin and announced a contribution of Rs. 25 lakh for relief and rehabilitation of the affected people.
"The efforts of the state and central authorities, including the defence forces, to limit the casualties was truly amazing. I saw their work with pride and admiration on TV channels," the NRI industrialist said in a statement from his country residence here.