|A truck under water in a flooded field near Berhampur on Sunday. Picture by Sanjoy Ghosh
Bhubaneswar, Oct. 15: Cyclone Phailin had nothing unpredictable about it, with the weather office forecasting accurately both its course and ferocity.
This was not true of the supercyclone that hit Odisha 14 years ago and left behind an unprecedented trail of death and destruction. Witnesses felt numbing fear.
The forecasters had failed to predict the ferocity of the typhoon that struck the coast on October 29, 1999. Even 12 hours before it made landfall, the maximum wind speed forecast was 200kmph — far less than the 260kmph at which it lashed the state.
In a region used to cyclones and floods, even that warning was not taken too seriously by the government of the day, which failed to make preparations.
Officially, 9,885 people were killed in the supercyclone, which caused flash floods in several areas with 45-95cm of rainfall recorded in many parts of the 14 coastal districts. Capital Bhubaneswar, over which the gale was stationary for around three hours, was one of the worst hit.
Sources claimed that the wind speed was so high that the anemometers installed in Bhubaneswar and Paradip failed to record it. “We have seen nothing of the kind in our lifetime. At 260km per hour, it was like death incarnate. We could not come out of our house for two days,” said Aparti Mallick, a retired government officer recalled.
Tidal surges higher than 6 metres were recorded. Waves in several parts of Kendrapara and Balasore swept 40-50km inland.
The intensity of Phailin was far less, with the maximum wind speed at 200kmph and tidal surges rising up to three metres in the worst hit areas.
A big difference between the two cyclones was in the reactions of the government of the day.
In 1999, the Congress government led by Giridhar Gamang was rendered virtually comatose for about 12 hours after the twister struck. Nothing moved, not even the relief trucks parked outside the chief minister’s residence. When they did leave finally, they were looted by rioting mobs on the way.
Armed with the experience of the past and with a much superior technology at its command, the Naveen Patnaik government has dealt with Phailin much more efficiently and minimised the damage to the maximum possible. While complaints of relief not reaching people have been few and far between, there has been no breach of law and order in any of the affected districts. The change that the state has seen since the supercyclone has been a change for the better.