Cyclones and ravages of nature have frequented Odisha since time immemorial. The fury of Phailin has refreshed memories of the dreadful cyclones and floods and their aftermath that left thousands dead and countless homeless. The Telegraph spoke to veterans from various walks of life that have witnessed more than one of these natural disasters. They recall their account and observe if anything has changed in the context of calamities
Manoj Das, author
Worst calamity faced: The 1942 cyclone wrought havoc in Balasore district and nearby areas in Bengal. All the houses were in ruins. Ten out of every dozen cattle had died. Birds lay all over our garden, dead. The crops rotted, bringing in its wake a devastating famine. Part of a meadow near my school was converted into a cremation ground. Starvation was followed by an epidemic of smallpox and death swept across the villages at great speed.
Changes over the years: I feel the irreparable damage to life and the surroundings that Nature’s fury can cause is still the same, despite development in areas such as good roads and telephone lines that have reached every village. Yet, when a calamity hits, the situation in rural India remains more or less unchanged. The common man’s life has not greatly changed when it comes to looking for shelter, being stranded and then finding out that all your property is lost forever.
Nirad Mohapatra, filmmaker
Worst calamity faced: I grew up in Bhadrak, which was prone to floods. As a kid, it was sheer excitement to witness people building embankments with sand-filled sacks. But, the swelling river often breached the road and I watched small fish swimming across it. I loved catching fish in the floodwater deposited in our low-lying backyard. Much later I realised how natural calamity causes human suffering. The worst natural calamity that I have experienced in life was the 1999 supercyclone. The ferocity of that event is deeply embedded in my memory. That was truly fearsome!
Changes over the years: It is in the nature of things to change. The sort of large-scale evacuation that was undertaken this time round was unprecedented. Technology has also made things easier for such pre-calamity operations. But since the scale of such calamities has become manifold, the preparedness to mitigate human suffering has not yet met the expectations of people. Relief and rehabilitation measures continue to be inadequate and uneven.
Prashant Nanda, filmmaker and actor
Worst calamity faced: The 1999 supercyclone is no doubt the worst calamity I have ever seen. I was in Cuttack and it was pathetic to see the helplessness of people. I also faced losses at a personal level. There was no information before the calamity hit and no one was prepared. The government was absolutely callous and had no clue how to handle the situation. While the government was paralysed and could not do anything, help came from other states and NGOs. But, it was already too late.
Changes over the years: A cyclone or any calamity is an act of God and God cannot be challenged. But, technology has definitely come to our rescue. At least if not property, this time lives could be saved.
Ramachandra Behera, litterateur
Worst calamity faced: Though the 1999 supercyclone is the most merciless and destructive natural disaster that the state has faced, I personally have fearful memories of the 1971 cyclone when I had just joined as a lecturer in Kendrapada. I was inside a hostel with an asbestos roof and when the wind was at its peak, the roof started clattering. My roommates and I went out to gauge the situation and realised it could not withstand the force of the wind. Soon, the asbestos flew off like a piece of paper and we had to move to a building in front of the hostel. From there, we saw how the hostel got completely damaged. It reminded me how puny we are in front of Nature.
Changes over the years: In Odisha, we know that floods are frequent and those living in flood-prone areas have learnt how to handle the situations. But, the memories of the 1999 supercyclone are etched in our minds and all of us have learnt from it. Now, people are ready to take precautions to save their lives and leave their property behind when the situation demands it. The government should be credited for the prompt action and rapid evacuation during Phailin.
Dinanath Pathy, art scholar and painter
Worst calamity faced: Our district was always prone to droughts. During my childhood, I have seen some of them and each was quite severe. Cyclones and floods are new to Ganjam. Phailin has hit my village, Digapahandi, quite badly and many people have lost their houses. Some parts of my house have also collapsed.
Change over the years: Things have definitely changed a lot now. It’s true that there have been loses, but lives were surely saved. There were still a few deaths, but we are helpless in front of Nature’s fury. Yet, the development of local media and technology helped spread awareness and the evacuation by the government was also an intelligent and significant move.
Kumkum Mohanty, Odissi danseuse
Worst calamity faced: I was in Cuttack during the 1999 supercyclone and I dread to even visit the memories of that disaster. Many people near our house were left hungry and homeless for days. There was food scarcity. But, the worst was the disruption in electricity and water supply. We could not go anywhere because the roads remained submerged for many days. Though there were warnings, but they were not enough to make us aware of what was coming.
Change over the years: After that experience, we were obviously ready to face any calamity of that magnitude. We now know our lives are more important than property. Plus, the mobile phones, television news channels and a more prepared government helped us face Phailin better. For example, electricity was restored in a couple of days and that shows how prompt everyone has become this time.
Sudhanshu Bhushan Mishra, chief secretary during 1999 supercyclone
Worst calamity faced: I can never forget the 1999 supercyclone. The United Nations announced that it was the worst natural disaster of the millennium. It was much more furious than Phailin even though there has been a lot of damage this time as well. Countless people died in 1999 and the villages were cut off from the rest of the world for a long time.
Changes over the years: The infrastructure is way better now. We have concrete houses and metalled roads and hence, it is easier to implement rescue strategy or pre-calamity steps. Now, there are cyclone shelters which play a crucial role in saving lives. And with videoconferencing, video calls and all the connectivity, we had access to the world even during the peak of the cyclone this time.