Battling wild cyclonic winds, Ajit Das and his family members scurried towards a cyclone shelter in the port town of Paradip in Odisha’s Jagatsinghpur district on Tuesday afternoon.
They had to struggle for space in a 3,000 sq.ft. area already occupied by 500 others.
On a day when his home district Jagatisinghpur registered a big spike by reporting 23 COVID-19 cases, adhering to social distancing precautions should have been uppermost in his mind.
Memories of 1999
But, for someone, who had witnessed the 1999 super cyclone and its trail of devastation, the COVID-19 pandemic did not evoke much fear.
“Many lives could have been saved had people taken some precautions by shifting themselves to safer places in 1999. We don’t want to take chances this time. There is still room for uncertainty that you may or may not contract the coronavirus. But, you will surely invite trouble if you stay outside during the cyclone,” said Mr. Das.
A similar sentiment was echoed by 70-year-old Sarat Chandra Tripathy at Pentha village in Kendrapara district, which is categorised as an orange zone with 38 active COVID-19 cases. “Fear of the coronavirus was not on anyone’s mind when we all rushed to the shelter. Saving life during the cyclone is the priority,” said Mr. Tripathy.
The population of Pentha is about 600. About 300 people, who live in thatched houses and old concrete structures, spend hours in cyclone shelters whenever there are storms. Ujjal Mandal, who reached the Bagagahana cyclone shelter in Kendrapara early on Tuesday, found people keeping some phsyical distance. “But, the shelter will be jam-packed when the cyclone picks momentum,” said Mr. Mandal.
Cyclonic storm Amphan will have the maximum impact on districts such as Balasore and Bhadrak, both falling the in red category of COVID-19 zones.
Initially, 567 cyclone shelters and 7,000 concrete buildings were identified to accommodate about 11 lakh people to be evacuated in 12 districts. By 4 p.m. on Tuesday, 35,000 people were shifted to cyclone shelters. As the cyclone moved away from the Odisha coast, the government breathed easy and focused only on six districts.