Two decades since the super cyclone hit Odisha’s coastal belt on October 29, 1999, the State has learnt a lot from the disaster and the process to develop a better preparedness strategy is still continuing.
After the super cyclone struck with a wind velocity of 270 kmph to 300 kmph, killing more than 10,000 people, the State government established the Odisha State Disaster Mitigation Authority in December 1999. The name of the organisation was changed to Odisha State Disaster Management Authority in September 2008.
The super cyclone was preceded by one that had hit the southern Odisha coast on October 17, 1999 and badly ravaged Berhampur city, causing several deaths. The super cyclone killed over 8000 people in Jagatsinghpur district alone.
The previous deadliest cyclone had hit the State in 1971. It had also claimed around 10,000 lives. In 1855, another major cyclone had ravaged the State’s coast, causing 5,000 deaths. While the super cyclone in 1999 had its landfall in Jagatsinghpur district, Kendrapara was in the eye of the storm both in 1855 and 1971.
Acting swiftly, the State government created the Odisha Disaster Rapid Action Force in 2001 in order to cope with natural calamities. And the State Disaster Management Policy was formulated in 2005. The State has since been able to construct a large number of multipurpose cyclone shelters in coastal region which are being used by the administration during calamities such and cyclone and flood.
In 2013, when cyclone Phailin had its landfall at Gopalpur in the State’s Ganjam district, the administration was successful in shifting more than 10 lakh people to safer places. The death toll in the storm stood at 21. When cyclone Hudhud hit Odisha and adjoining Andhra Pradesh coast in 2014, the death toll was only two in the State.
Cyclone Titli, which had its landfall in south-west coast of Gopalpur near Palasa in Andhra Pradesh, had claimed as many as 77 lives in Odisha. The cyclone and heavy rains that accompanied it caused landslides in interior Gajapati district resulting in death of 42 people.
The latest Cyclone Fani that hit Odisha on May 3 this year had its landfall near Puri with a wind speed raging up to 200 kmph. It caused 64 deaths despite evacuation of more than 10 lakh people. The authorities in Bhubaneswar experienced complete failure of communication with the Puri district administration for the first time since the super cyclone. They are now working to prevent such post-disaster communication failure in the future.