Cyclone Fani Brings Back Painful Memories of the 1999 Odisha Super-Cyclone

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Cyclone Fani Brings Back Painful Memories of the 1999 Odisha Super-Cyclone

Illustration: Reynold Mascarenhas

After three days of ominous build-up over the Bay of Bengal, Cyclone Fani has made landfall in Odisha. Three people have died and there has been large-scale damage – trees and electricity poles uprooted, power cut off.

Calling Fani a mere cyclone would be an understatement. News outlets reporting on developments as Fani hits the town of Puri in Odisha have referred to it as an “extremely severe cyclonic storm”, that is predicted to devolve into a “very severe cyclonic storm” over the next few hours. When “very severe” is considered an improvement on your present condition (especially concerning natural disasters), you know that you’re in serious trouble.

In preparation for the cyclone, over one lakh people have been evacuated from their residences, flights out of Kolkata have been cancelled, and disaster warnings have been issued to people who remain in Fani’s path. A wise move, as footage from the stricken areas reveals nature’s unmitigated fury laying to waste buildings and foliage alike. Gale-force winds at speeds of up to 25 kilometres per hour are causing thick coconut trees to bend nearly in half, and are ripping off roofs of structures as they howl past.

Calling Fani a mere cyclone would be an understatement.

So far, there have been no reports of any more loss of life caused by Cyclone Fani – a welcome relief, and also testament to how well-prepared the government was for a natural disaster of this scale. Comparisons have been drawn between Fani and a superstorm of a similar scale that struck the same region in 1999. Twenty years ago, the super-cyclone, sometimes referred to as Cyclone Paradip, hit Odisha and caused the deaths of almost 10,000 people, making it one of the worst natural disasters recorded in Indian history. In addition to the loss of human life, lakhs of wild animals and livestock, like cattle and poultry, as well as the destruction of thousands of planted hectares of valuable crops and fisheries.

Paradip came like something out of a Hollywood disaster movie. Even its origins seemed sinister – its wind speed was so high that the anemometer at the IMD office failed to pick it up. Reports speak of three days of torrential rain, as the never-ending downpour caused a tidal surge that swept more than 20 kilometres inland. In 1999, the state of Odisha and its people suffered greatly because adequate measures had not been taken to ensure their safety in the face of what might have been the most deadly cyclonic event of the century.

Compared to the apocalyptic outcome we saw the last time a storm close to Fani’s intensity struck, a few cancelled flights and unavoidable evacuations are a small price to pay. Of course, the storm will exact its due, and the land left behind in its wake might be drastically altered, but at least the loss of life can be prevented with appropriate preparedness. History might have a tendency to repeat itself, but when it comes to Cyclone Fani, we will all be glad if it did not.

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