The storm has passed. Sunday night, as cyclone Phailin looked set to dissipate within 36 hours, the Orissa government could pat itself in the back for a massive evacuation that helped save thousands of people from India’s fiercest cyclone in 14 years.
The death toll in the state stood at 18, most of them dying under falling trees as winds reaching up to 250 km or more battered Ganjam district and with a lesser force other districts. While over 2.34 lakh houses were damaged, less than 12 hours after the cyclone subsided over ‘Ground Zero’ Ganjam, over 90 per cent of the roads blocked by fallen trees had been cleared.
By Sunday evening, Cyclone Phailin had weakened into “deep depression”. M Mohapatra, Scientist (Cyclone Warning Division) of the Meteorology Department in Delhi, said the cyclonic storm now had wind speed of 45-55 km ph, and was expected to weaken further.
Orissa officials attributed the low casualties to record evacuation. In just three days, 9.1 lakh people in 14 districts were evacuated. In Ganjam alone, over 1.82 lakh people were evacuated while another 1.6 lakh rushed to cyclone shelters there on their own ahead of the cyclone.
Andhra Pradesh also saw one of its biggest evacuation operations, with over 90,000 people shifted from coastal villages of the Srikakulam district to 49 shelters within 30 hours. The shelters had stocks of food and other essential commodities to last a week. All these were in place, along with an officer in charge of each shelter, by 3 pm Saturday, six hours before the cyclone made landfall in neighbouring Orissa. This ensured there were no casualties in the district.
The Srikakulam administration drew up lists of villages, categorised them as dangerous, very vulnerable and vulnerable, and sent text messages to over 10,000 people a day before the cyclone. The level of planning was such that special officers had details of families, numbers of men, women and children, contact numbers of village elders and elected representatives, besides information about the number of vehicles available for evacuation.
Adopting a strategy of ‘zero loss of