life’, 247 cyclone shelters were pressed into service in Orissa. However, what made the difference was the 10,000 specially constructed school buildings that housed a major part of the 9,12,848 people who were evacuated from the affected areas. These buildings had been constructed as part of a special plan after the 1999 super cyclone disaster.
“All resources were put to use. This was the largest-ever evacuation at such short notice. We not only provided food and water to all but a week’s supply of both was also kept ready at the shelters,” a senior state government fuctionary said. Special rapid action force teams were placed at strategic locations in districts and fuel was stocked.
Alarm bells started going off in Orissa soon after a low-pressure area formed over the North Andaman Sea last week. As the Meteorological Department forecast that this could develop into a very severe cyclone, with wind speeds reaching up to 185-190 km per hour and make landfall somewhere closer to Gopalpur in Orissa, Chief Secretary Jugal Mohapatra took a meeting of the Ganjam district administration.
“In 1999, hardly a few thousand were evacuated. We did not have many cyclone shelters then. The Chief Secretary made it clear that, no matter what, vulnerable people have to be evacuated to safer areas to ensure zero casualties,” said a Revenue and Disaster Management Department official.
“Mass evacuation was started on the morning of the 10th and by 11th evening, it had been completed. There was information about a few reluctant people in vulnerable areas, and senior officials were asked to intervene. These people too were shifted to shelters by 12th morning. People were cajoled, persuaded or forced to leave,” an official said.
At Ganjam, the district collector identified all the vulnerable villages and possible cyclone shelters nearby. By Saturday evening, when the cyclone made landfall, over 3.5 lakh people from at least five districts in the scope of the cyclone had moved to shelters.
In Golabandha village of Ganjam, people were told clearly of the dangers of living within the first 10 km of the coast. “Though people initially resented forced evacuation, now they are