Window Seat | Mrinal Chatterjee | 12.5.19

Cyclone Fani

Cyclone Fani (pronounced Phoni, means hood of a snake, name given by Bangladesh) made landfall on 3 May at coastal town of Puri, a popular tourist spot in Eastern India. Puri is also the abode of Lord Jagannath, one of the four dhams of the Hindus. Though Odisha is cyclone-prone, Puri has not faced the wrath of a cyclone for a long time. This has made the sevayats of Puri temple often say, Puri is protected by Lord Jagannath. No cyclone can touch this place. In deed the 1999 super cyclone spared Puri. So did Titli, Hudhud, Phailin. But they were wrong this time.

Fani struck and struck with ferocity. The winds speed was over 250 km per hour, enough to blow an able bodied person off its feet or turn a 52 seater bus turtle or twist the electric poles and tower beyond recognition or uproot trees. It did all these and more in eleven coastal districts and the state capital city Bhubaneswar, considered to be Number 1 smart city of the country. Fani ripped apart its smartness in four hours flat. Bhubaneswar has not returned to normalcy even as I write this column on four and half days after the cyclone struck. Three fourth of the city is still without electricity. People are facing worst kind of water scarcity. Connectivity is still a big problem. So is communication.

Fani shook us. Rattled us. Showed us our place in the scheme of nature. It left with a message, loud and clear: respect nature. Or get wiped off.


Cyclone Fani 2


Water supply is the major problem in all cyclone ravaged city and towns, which are dependent on piped water supply, which again is dependent on electricity supply. People can live for a day or two without electric light, but not without water. There are few hand operated tube wells. Even if some people have water in their sumps without electricity supply they are not able to lift that to the overhead tanks. Private generator-walas are charging a fortune to lift water to the overhead water tanks.

I am told Andhra Govt has already sent tens of thousands of water pouches. However, equitable distribution remains a challenge, as the lumpen elements try to snatch and forcibly take away these. Lessons learnt: 1. We must have some hand operated tube wells in cities and towns. 2. Underground cabling to pre-empt disruption of electricity supply 3. Where that is not possible, use cyclone resistant electric poles 4. Fill up water tankers and position them strategically as soon as the cyclone warning is released. It should be part of Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) 4. Distribution of food, water and relief materials must be orderly and equitable.


Cyclone Fani 3


There have been incidents of theft and looting even as the cyclone was razing. After the cyclone, there have been incidents of road blockade demanding relief and resumption of electricity and water supply. People are scared of theft as the cities plunge into darkness. Prices of all essential commodities including water have skyrocketed in Cyclone ravaged areas.

Why do some people behave like this? We take pride in the fact that we are part of an ancient civilization. Have we been civilized? Can’t we face a natural calamity together without trying to take advantage of it by exploiting, looting others.


Cyclone Fani 4: Those who worked silently


Crisis tests the mettle of man and also organisations. Odisha Disaster Rapid Action Force (ODRAF) and all personnel involved in minimising the effect of the cyclone and bringing back normalcy after Cyclone Fani wreaked havoc in coastal districts of Odisha did and doing exemplary work. Tens of thousands of people were evacuated in matters of hours and housed at safe places. This minimised the casualty figure and earned praise from all around including an advertisement by Amul.


The efficiency and commitment level of the team engaged in bringing back normalcy is very high. After the 150 km cyclone hit Dhenkanal at around 11 am and continued till afternoon,uprooting several electric poles and big trees- the electricity supply was resumed by midnight. East coast railways and Airport Authority have done commendable job by resuming train and air service from Bhubaneswar even as the station and airport lie in a shambles.


Media in Odisha did an excellent job in Cyclone Fani coverage. From educating people about the cyclone, to warning them to take appropriate steps, to ground coverage of the cyclone affected areas, to post cyclone coverage – they did an excellent job overall. There were some glitches, of course. Certain areas could have been done differently and better. But overall excellent. But DD and AIR, unfortunately lagged behind. At 9 pm on 3 May  as there was no electricity so no TV and we wanted to news of Puri where my in laws live, I tuned to AIR, Cuttack for cyclone news. What I got was bhajan extolling Bajrangbali. I tuned to AIR, Rainbow. What I got was Ghajal, about love and sweetheart. I was later told they were airing hourly bulletins. AIR should have done more than that. when a crisis of this proportion, impacting one third of the population of Odisha loomed large.


Cyclone Fani 5: What we learnt?

Natural Calamities brings out many facets of our personalities which are yet unknown even to us. My friend J.P.Jagdev, who is in Bhubaneswar with family without electricity and water supply and phone and net connectivity has discovered some. This is what he has posted in social media: The recent disaster showed it to us:

  1. You don’t need electricity to survive.
  2. You shall sleep in heat and humidity without a fan or AC if you are sleepy enough.
  3. You are happy knowing nothing about the world if you are just with your family and friends and your neighborhood – safe.
  4. Your fridge stored mostly food which is not great for your health.
  5. You find some solution if you stay calm and respond without reacting and complaining.
  6. Nature is all powerful and we must respect it without trying to subjugate it.
  7. The cyclone could blow away buildings and telecom tower; but can’t do anything to our local mosquitoes.
  8. We need very few things to lead a happy life but we have been sacrificing our happiness chasing things thinking acquisition of which will make us happy…


Tailpiece: True Heart

Meanwhile results of CBSC have been declared.

Before exam Boy to his girl-friend

Boy: Hey, All the best

Girl Friend: All the best to you too

Exam. result declared. Girl scored 90 marks and boy failed.

Moral: Only boys wish with true heart.

(Courtesy: Social Media)


The author, a journalist turned media academician lives in Central Odisha town of Dhenkanal. An anthology of his weekly column Window Seat, published in 2018 has been published as a book. Write to him to get a free e-copy.


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