Policemen are duty bound to protect people. But, they were among the first to fend for their lives as cyclone Phailin stuck Odisha's only marine police station at Arjapalli in Chattarpur, about 170 kms south of Bhuvaneshwar. The police station was set up about five years ago exclusively for those living within 500 meters of the sea coast.
"The waves were as high as first floor of the police station," said B Rama Rao, a constable at the police station. Considering that the police station was about 10 meters above the beach level, the waves climbed up to 15 meters or a four storey building.
The first onslaught came at about four o clock in the afternoon when the water touched ground floor of the police station. And then the water level started rising steadily in the police station which is next to Gopalpur port. The panic button was pressed by 17 policemen present there who just ran off towards a higher plateau at Arjapalli about 50 meters away.
By 10 ten o'clock the water was gushing into the first floor of the police station. "We thought that the building would get submerged," said Huno Patra, another constable at the police station, while trying to reorganise things in the station building shattered by Phailin. The doors and the window panes were being re-installed. Files damaged were being recreated. And a small puja was also being done to thank God for securing them.
Earlier that day they had forcefully taken people out from their homes in coastal areas to cyclone shelter. By late in the night they were back at the shelter. The difference was they were there like any other ordinary cyclone victim.
Even a cyclone center at another village had to be closed down hours before Phailin made the landfall. Ghanjam's district collector declared that the shelter was not safe and hurriedly people were shifted into a college building. "There was lot of panic and chaos," said Pradip Behera, one of the persons shifted out.
These two government structures were exception in a long list of schools, colleges and shelters used to provide safe house to people. "We used whatever infrastructure we had to provide safety. Over three lakh people in Ganjam district were evacuated," the official said. Even a building constructed by a Netherlands based aid agency after 1999 super cyclone also came handy on October 12 night.