Facing a Category 4 storm packed with destructive winds and torrential rain, the military has mobilised resources on a massive scale to provide humanitarian assistance to an estimated 12 million people likely to be affected — a challenge that will severely test India’s disaster relief capabilities.
The mobilisation comes barely four months after the armed forces were stretched to their limits in flood-ravaged Uttarakhand, considered the biggest such rescue effort mounted by the military.
Heavy-lift planes, special aircraft, warships, choppers and specialised troops are waiting for orders to deploy in the cyclone-affected areas of Odisha and north coastal Andhra Pradesh.
The Indian Air Force’s C-17 Globemaster III — the biggest transport aircraft in its inventory — on Saturday airlifted ambulances, specialist army vehicles, relief material and 60 troops to Bhubaneswar. Inducted into the IAF only last month, the US-built plane can carry a payload of nearly 75 tonnes.
More than 20 helicopters, including the IAF’s Russian-origin Mi-17 V5 helicopters, are on standby in Barrackpore near Kolkata.
The authorities were forced to release water from the Hirakud and Damodar Valley dams to prevent a breach as the rain pelted down, potentially posing a flooding threat.
Once the extent of damage becomes clear, relief and rehabilitation efforts will get into full swing.
The evacuated are crammed into schools and temples, and preventing waterborne diseases will be a major focus. Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik, who faces the state electorate next year, has told his officials to “ensure zero casualty” and is personally reviewing some operations.
With reporting by Ipsit Mohapatra, Zia Haq and Chetan Chauhan