Sarat Sahu’s gaze was fixed on the computer screen as his cell phone kept ringing endlessly.
He was busy minutely monitoring the progress of the monster cyclone called “Phailin” which kept moving menacingly towards the Odisha coast. Studying the satellite pictures, deciphering them and circulating the information was serious job and the cell phone was a distraction.
Dr. Sahu, Director of the Bhubaneswar Meteorological Centre, had a sleepless 24 hours but did not miss anything about the cyclone, though some calls on his mobile got registered as missed calls.
He was one of the few key officials whose round-the-clock positioning at workplace had made the difference in responding to the threat of Phailin which a section of the media even briefly described as a ‘super cyclone’.
“It was a terrible Saturday. Besides, updating and issuing bulletins on cyclone every three hours, answering calls from disaster managers, media persons as well as curious people was very stressful. By the time I finished attending to one call, my cell phone was registering at least 30 calls in between,” he said recounting his experience.
The Bhubaneswar Meteorological Centre sent updates through SMS, FAX and email to the Special Relief Commissioner, P.K. Mohapatra regularly. He was also in constant touch with the headquarters of Indian Meteorological Department.
“On October 12 (Saturday), after 4 p.m., I got over 250 calls. Even calls from top police officials went unanswered. I was helpless. However, top officials including Chief Secretary and Additional Chief Secretary understood my constraints and they were contacting through proper channels,” Dr. Sahu said.
After Phailin was dubbed to be bigger than 1999 super cyclone in the media, curious people kept calling the Met office. And some of them also wanted to update the status with information on Phailin in social networking sites. The Director of Bhubaneswar Met Office and 25 other staff remained stationed in the office since Friday morning till Sunday evening.
At his office in the State secretariat, the Special Relief Commissioner, the nodal officer for relief, rescue and rehabilitation operation, was a man of extreme composure.
While coordinating with field level staff on evacuation of people from vulnerable locations, Mr. Mohapatra had found himself in a similar sticky situation akin to Dr. Sahu. The Special Relief Commissioner kept on briefing top bosses including Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik during Friday, Saturday and Sunday and at the same time answered countless calls from media persons from within the State and outside. “It was a tough job. But we had to do it. We had no other option,” said Mr. Mohapatra.
There were a number of officials who silently performed their job in the background registering one of the finest disaster response acts. “Naveen and his army tame cyclone Phailin”, said a SMS circulated after the cyclone roared away virtually praising the government’s achievement.