When Disaster Strikes: Cyclone Fani

One cannot imagine the enormity of a natural disaster if one hasn\’t been in it. So it is difficult for me, or anyone who wasn\’t there, to fully empathise with the millions of Odias who were battered by 200 kilometres-per-hour-plus winds of Cyclone Fani, which has been categorised as Extremely Severe Cyclonic Storm.

Here\’s the Tropical Cyclone Intensity Scale:

  • Super Cyclonic Storm: ≥221 km/h
  • Extremely Severe Cyclonic Storm: 166–220 km/h
  • Very Severe Cyclonic Storm: 118–165 km/h
  • Severe Cyclonic Storm: 89–117 km/h
  • Cyclonic Storm: 63–88 km/h

When winds, accompanied by rain water, hit things at that speed, trees snap, roofs get blown away, vehicles overturn, massive waves called storm surges flood inland destroying houses, boats, farmlands — it\’s just like they show in Hollywood movies, but real. Unless prepared, it can lead to massive loss of human and animal lives. Loss of trees and forests is a given.

The energy released by a cyclone is equivalent to thousands of nuclear bombs. If you were to stand outside resisting that kind of wind, well, you won\’t be standing; you\’ll be kicked around the ground like tumbleweed. And you don\’t want to experience raindrops hitting your face at 200 km/h! The rain hitting your house at that speed is so relentless that it seeps inside through nooks and crannies that you never thought existed.

Fani has left a trail of disaster in its wake. Cities like Puri and Bhubaneswar are in shambles. Fallen trees blocking roads, kuchcha houses blown away. Tin, tile, thatch roofs are mostly gone. Billboards, cranes, false ceilings, glass panes, aluminium facades … all blown away.

My family back home in Bhubaneswar has been without electricity, water, internet or a working telephone connection for more than 24 hours now. (But they got a message through to me that they\’re safe.) I hope they\’ve been able to run the generator though.

The Super Cyclone of 1999 was the worst ever (winds in the range of 300 km/h). And we were caught so unprepared that more than 10,000 people were killed. It was a human disaster of an epic scale. That triggered a massive upskilling of the Odisha Government and upgrading of cyclone-relief infrastructure. There is a system in place for prediction, tracking, communication, logistics, protection, shelter, food, water, and post-cyclone restoration. The establishment of the National Disaster Relief Force in 2005 has helped too. And that has ensured that Cyclone Phailin and Fani have had minimal impact in terms of human lives lost. But still, around 8 people have died, according to the last received reports. I wish they could have been saved. But I\’m happy that millions were.

And because of the preparedness, the state will get back on track soon enough. People will rebuild their lives. Hopefully those who have lost property, homes, etc., will get some state support. What worries me most is that the frequency of such cyclones is increasing. Fani, Phailin, Hudhud, Titli, Gaja … I\’m forced to say that perhaps this is due to climate change.

I won\’t like to be identified as a regionalist, but Odisha is where I\’m from — my identity and origin. So I do feel a sense of sadness when I see that a disaster of the scale of Fani doesn\’t get the kind of coverage on national news media or social media as something like this happening in another state. I know the reasons — we\’re few in numbers, with less political, social, and economic clout, and, in this case, because not many human lives were lost. Anyway, all\’s well if lives are saved!

Finally, please consider donating towards relief:

Published by Anupam Choudhury

I'm a writer, editor, and blogger from New Delhi, India.

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