“Hundreds feared killed as winds with a velocity of over 260 km per hour batter 10 coastal districts of Orissa for over eight hours. A panicked state government, ill prepared, calls in for help. The scale of devastation not known even a day after the disaster as communication to thousands of villages cut off. The blame for not preparing for the calamity falls equally on the Weather Department”.“
That was the news that hit the front page of this newspaper on October 30, 1999, the day after the super cyclone hit Orissa .
Cut 14 years ahead and the story of Phailin is totally different: 9,800 died then, 18 deaths have been reported so far this time; a few thousand evacuated then, more than 9 lakh taken to rescue shelters in 2013; communications completely destroyed then, Orissa is already talking about restoration now.
While the severity of Cyclone Phailin was by most indications lesser than the 1999 storm, one of the potentially worst natural disasters to hit India in years was averted due to a combination of efforts — including by the Meteorological Department, the state government and Centre. And it could become a role model for future disaster mitigation in the country.
The state government
A forewarned state government did not shy away this time from seeking all possible help from the Centre and carried out a mass evacuation programme. Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik personally called up Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as well as the Defence Minister to press the importance of the matter.
In 1999, when the super cyclone struck, then
chief minister Giridhar Gamang was consulting his astrologers, who reportedly assured him that Cyclone O5B would split into two and fly over Orissa. Officials could not convince people in Jagatsinghpur that tidal surges could kill them. When the cyclone struck finally, there was no electricity even in the state secretariat as no one had thought of arranging a generator.
It was only after the scale of the devastation became clear that the Gamang government requested the Centre to send in armed forces and to seek