Lessons for Odisha in cyclone Fani deaths
Most of the 39 deaths that occurred in Puri district, which took the maximum hit when Cyclone Fani roared through Odisha on May 3, could have been because of lack of proper communication and negligence on the part of the victims, say experts and affected families.
“On May 1 morning when power supply was disconnected, we knew the landfall time to be around 5.30 pm. We thought that we have enough time to shift out,” said Seshadeba Nayak, a resident of village Kuapada in Bramagiri block of Puri district.
Nayak’s 9-year-old daughter Payal, a speech and hearing impaired girl, succumbed to her head injuries she had suffered after a brick wall of their house collapsed on the family on May 3.
When Cyclone Fani actually made landfall in the morning, neither the Nayaks nor any of the villagers of Kuapada knew that the storm was at their doorstep. “None of us got any message on our mobile or heard any siren,” said another villager.
Other villagers said they possibly could not have gone to the multipurpose cyclone shelter at Dharanikuda village, that is 3 km away, as it can accommodate no more than 500 people. “There are more than 4,000 people in our gram panchayat and had we all decided to go there, there would have been a stampede,” said Mamata Nayak, Payal’s mother.
Government officials, however, claimed they sent out cyclone alert through text messages besides sounding siren.
“We had sent over 2 crore messages to BSNL [state-run telecom company] mobile phone consumers in the coastal Odisha over a period of 5 days and sounded siren for over 50 hours in areas close to 3 km of the coast. This never happened before in any of the cyclones that hit the state earlier,” said Odisha’s special relief commissioner Bishnupada Sethi.
Meanwhile, the death toll has increased to 64 even as the state government has stepped up its relief and restoration efforts.
Those who lost their family members would get ₹6 lakh ex-gratia on the basis of post-mortem report.
In case of the Nayaks, there was no way the family could have been alerted about the exact time of the landfall. As the state government kept advancing the time of the cyclone’s landfall from 5.30 pm to 8 am, the Nayaks remained oblivious of it. Two days before the cyclone hit the state, power supply had been disconnected to the village of 700 people and mobile connectivity was almost absent.
In Handiali village of the Brahmagiri, 83-year-old Hadubandhu Baral, who lived in a small asbestos-roofed two-room house, reportedly refused to go to his younger son’s pucca house.
Soon after the cyclone started pummelling the village, an acacia tree fell on Baral’s house. A brick wall collapsed on the elderly man, killing him instantly.
“We did not get any messages about the timing of the landfall, but we still knew that the cyclone would be catastrophic. I asked my father not to go to his house, but he did not listen,” said his son Gopabandhu Baral, a farmer.
Debabrata Patra of Action Aid India, a non-government organisation, said the pre-cyclone communication system and the evacuation system may have improved vastly from the days of 1999 supercyclone [that killed over 10,000 people], but there are still lots of flaws. “Several people on the coast said they were not intimated about the exact time of landfall. The IMD [India Meteorological Department] also could not estimate correctly the exact place of landfall leading to confusion,” said Patra. In a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, chief minister Naveen Patnaik wrote, “I would request you to kindly consider sanctioning five lakh PMAY special houses initially for the state of Odisha.”
With PTI inputs