People living on Odisha coastline could broadly be divided into two categories: those who had survived 1999 super cyclone and were prepared for Phailin, and those who were facing the fury of a cyclone for the first time.
In Ganjam district, considered to be the epicentre of Phailin, people had to be forcibly evacuated from their homes. Unaware of the disaster a cyclone could wreck, people resisted the government's evacuation drive in this area.
However, 200 km towards its east in Jagatsinghpur district, ground zero of the 1999 super cyclone, people abandoned their homes even before the officials swung into action.
“We know what a cyclone can do,” said Dinu Bandhu Behera of Jagatsinghpur’s Saili village, who lost his parents and a sister in the 1999 super cyclone which claimed over 10,000 lives.
“I was swept away by water for three km. I survived by holding on to a tree. I stayed on the tree for almost a day before a helicopter spotted me and I was rescued,” he said with tears streaming down his face.
Every home in the affected regions of the district has a story of pain, horror and bravado. And when the first message about another cyclone of similar or higher intensity was flashed, they knew what to do.
The villagers collected adequate ration with utensils for community cooking and shifted to cyclone shelters built after the 1999 disaster. Arrangements were also made to ensure they had enough clean water, medicines and bedding to cope with a longer duration cyclone. Fortunately, Phailin’s impact was much less than anticipated.
Prashant Sahoo of Dahi Bada, one of the worst affected villages during the 1999 cyclone, said the entire village had shifted to the shelter much before Phailin was supposed to hit Ganjam district, about 200 km away. “The local officials arrived when we were shifting some essentials to the cyclone shelter,” said Jasyajit Mandol of the neighbouring Paroda village.
This preparedness was lacking in Ganjam district, where the local administration had to forcefully evict people from their homes and keep them in shelters. “Many people were not willing to shift to the cyclone shelters. We forcibly pulled them out of their homes, sent them in a vehicle and kept them in a shelter,” said BB Rao, a constable in Marine police station in Arjapalli area of Ganjam district.
People in Ganjam had not experienced anything like Phailin before. The 1999 super cyclone was concentrated in the eastern side of Odisha and Ganjam had witnessed storm with little flooding. October 12 night was fiercer with waves up to 10-15 meters but the pre-cyclone evacuation by the local administration ensured that many lives were saved.