It was the year 1999 when a super cyclone ravaged parts of Odisha, claiming the lives of over 10,000 people. The 1999 super cyclone is among the worst natural disasters in India. Today, in May 2021, another super cyclone, Cyclone Yaas, hit the state, but due to its robust evacuation mechanism and preparation, Odisha managed to contain the damage by a definitive margin. .
Cyclone Yaas made landfall in Odisha on May 26 between the north coast of Dhamra in Bhadrak district and the coast of Bahanga in Balasore district. According to the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD), the cyclonic storm weakened into a deep low over southern Jharkhand and Odisha on Thursday evening. So far, only three deaths have been reported from the cyclone – two in Odisha and one in West Bengal.
Over the past 30 months, Odisha has faced up to six cyclones, but the death toll has never exceeded a single figure. Odisha’s Special Relief Commissioner PK Jena told India Today the only difference the state has made over the past 20 years is “preparedness.”
As soon as meteorological experts predicted the approach of Cyclone Yaas, the state’s disaster management department was immediately activated and took all precautionary measures, including evacuating people to achieve the goal of zero causality set by Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik.
Several teams from ODRAF, NDRF, Odisha Police, firefighters, energy staff and people with disabilities sprang into action after the cyclone made landfall. Rescue and restoration operations were on the verge of war. As a result, the roads were cleared within hours and power was restored to the entire Balasore district within 7-8 hours.
Odisha’s government has managed to evacuate at least 710,000 people to date from low-lying areas and seaside resorts with the help of intervention forces on the ground. The disaster response team consists of 52 NDRF teams (20-25 members per team), 60 Odisha Disaster Rapid Action Force teams (13 members per team), 206 fire teams (8-13 members per team). team), 50 Odisha Special Armed Police platoons, 86 teams of tree cutters from the State Forest Department (8 members including 1 officer per team).
A restoration team is removing fallen trees from the road.
In addition to the disaster response team, the state has also deployed several teams for the redevelopment of areas affected by the cyclones. This includes 154 workers from the public protection service, 313 teams from the rural development service (1 junior engineer and 22 workers per shift), 104 teams for road cleaning, 606 teams from the engineering service including officers and workers. . At least 10,000 members of the Department of Energy have been pre-deployed to strategic locations such as hospitals and other important locations to help the administration speed up its restoration.
The state government has also deployed 1,000 diesel generators to operate water supply systems, 1,000 portable tankers, more than 2,000 PVC tanks to be placed in villages.
Massive, targeted and general evacuations, and inter-service coordination are two of the main USPs of how Odisha deals with natural disasters. The state has a strong institutional structure with a committed workforce of the disaster management department which is closely monitored by senior officials.
Evacuating people from areas likely to be affected by the cyclone was a difficult task due to the Covid-19 pandemic. In the first phase, the administration opted for a targeted evacuation by moving people from the kachha houses and lower areas to a place of safety. In the second phase, the administration led for a general evacuation of villages falling on a 4 meter line and as a result not a single injury or death occurred in more than 150 villages where high water saturation has occurred. been reported.
Rescue teams evacuating people from a village in Odisha.
Covid management during the cyclone
Faced with a double challenge due to the cyclone and the Covid-19 pandemic, the restoration teams fortified the doors and windows of hospitals designated by Covid; adequate drugs, injections and consumables were stored in hospitals; adequate oxygen cylinders and buffer stock were maintained; food was organized for patients, doctors and paramedics inside the hospital. As a result, none of the Covid hospitals in the cyclone-affected districts reported untoward incidents.
Food provided in a shelter.
Despite Cyclone Yaas landing on Wednesday, Odisha facilitated the unhindered transport of medical oxygen to states affected by Covid. In addition to coordinating the interstate movement of oxygen tankers, state police also ensured that the oxygen supply reached local hospitals.
District collectors from districts potentially affected by the cyclone were invited to identify each pregnant woman with an estimated delivery date until the first week of June and transfer them to hospitals instead of taking them to cyclone shelters. About 4,500 of these women have been identified, of which 2,500 have been transferred to hospital. On the day Cyclone Yaas made landfall, 190 deliveries were reported in Odisha.
Members of a rescue team handing over a baby to the mother during an evacuation operation in Odisha.
The administration also identified people with mental disorders and specially disabled people strapped to wheelchairs and transferred them to different accommodation centers with special facilities.
Recalling a meeting with Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik after taking office for the first time in 2000, Jena said the CM told her that being a coastal state, Odisha cannot avoid cyclones completely. “The only thing we can do is save lives, and every life is precious to me,” Jena reminded the CM.
Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik conducts aerial survey of areas affected by cyclones.
When preparing for Cyclone Amphan last year, CM Naveen Patnaik set a goal of “zero casualties” before the administration. The state had recorded single-digit death tolls from the cyclone.
“We have now achieved the capacity to evacuate at least 10-50 lakh people in less than 24 hours,” Jena said.
Jena said that every year on June 19, the government conducts a statewide mock exercise on how to respond to a storm or cyclone. “The institution you create doesn’t have to be rigid; it has to be flexible, adaptable. How quickly you adapt to the emergency, how quickly you change your Plan-A with Plan-B to match. needs of the situation is important, “he said. .
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