Bhubaneswar, Oct. 10: As cyclone Phailin moved within striking distance of Odisha, chief minister Naveen Patnaik sought the help of defence forces and cancelled Puja holidays of government employees across the state to tackle the impending crisis.
“Our past experience indicates that despite the state government’s preparedness, impact of a very severe cyclonic storm requires support of the defence forces to mitigate the effects of extreme weather events,” Patnaik said in a letter to defence minister A.K. Antony.
Patnaik, who also cancelled his scheduled visit to Delhi today, recalled how defence forces had come to the rescue of the state on similar occasions in 2007, 2008 and 2011.
“I would request you to kindly consider issuing standing instructions to the defence forces, specially the air force and the navy, to remain in readiness to extend support to the state administration in relief and rescue operation as and when required,” the chief minister said in his letter.
Naveen, who reviewed the situation with senior officials at the state secretariat, has also alerted the Union home ministry to keep its helicopters ready for relief and rescue work in the state. Sources said that state government has sought eight MI-17 helicopters apart from the deployment of 28 units of National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) in the districts likely to be affected by the cyclonic storm.
Though as many as 14 coastal districts are likely to be hit by Phailin, Ganjam, Puri, Khurda, Gajapati and Nayagarh would bear its brunt. Heavy rain is also likely to occur in some of the interior districts such as Koraput, Kandhamal, Bargarh and Balangir under the impact of the cyclonic storm.
A bigger worry for the government is the likelihood of gale causing huge tidal surges in the sea at several places including Ganjam, Khurda, Puri and Jagatsinghpur. Sources said towering waves rising upto two metres may inundate coastal settlements posing a serious threat to life and property.
Sources in the chief minister’s office said evacuation of people from such vulnerable areas would begin from tomorrow evening. “If need be, people living in mud houses close to the shore would be forcibly evicted,” said an official adding that relief preparations were also on in full swing with one lakh food packets ready for dispatch once the cyclone strikes.
With heavy rainfall expected in the catchment areas of Mahanadi, heavy discharge of water was made from the Hirakud reservoir today to keep its level within manageable limits.
Sources in the weather office here said that Phailin, which was lying centred in the Bay of Bengal around 800km from Paradip, was likely to cross north Andhra Pradesh and Odisha coast between Kalingapatnam and Paradip late on October 12 with a maximum sustained wind speed of 175-185 kmph.
With all leaves cancelled, the state secretariat here will function as the government hub managing the situation arising out of the impeding crisis. Senior officials will monitor the free kitchens and relief centres being opened in the 14 coastal districts likely to be worst hit by the storm. The district administrations have been asked to stock up dry food, medicines and kerosene and to form medical teams for deployment in the affected areas.
“All our 247 cyclone-cum-flood relief centres are ready for use,” said special relief commissioner P. K. Mohapatra.