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Cyclone Fani: How a state was ravaged and how it pulled together to fight Mother Nature’s fury

Authorities are saying that by 12th May, all of Bhubaneswar City will be back on the grid while for Puri, it may take more than a month as a total of 1,56,000 electric poles need to be erected. Life is limping back to normalcy, slowly but steadily.

Broken trees, mobile towers, wretched electric poles and debris lay scattered on roads of Puri and Bhubaneswar as a category 4 cyclone named “Fani” ripped through the Odisha coast in the early hours of 3rd May. As wind speed crossed 250 KMPH at landfall, it left behind a trail of destruction and horror. Government sources put the death toll at 42 while some unofficial counts suggest that this number can go up, this is beside the massive damage to livestock and fauna across Puri, Bhubaneswar, Cuttack, Jagatsinghpur, Kendrapara district. Civic infrastructure, communication, electricity network, monuments, temples are ravaged across the path of the cyclone.

As the IMD forecasted the exact time and landfall point of the strongest ever cyclone in two decades, the state government moved massive resources to undertake one of the biggest evacuation drive to have been undertaken in recent history. A day before the storm, IMD revised its time of landfall from 17:00 to 08:00 as the storm picked up the pace and the task to evacuate people with lesser time in hand became more challenging. The government evacuated 1.2 million people to safe places and cyclone shelter homes before the deadly cyclone hit the coast. To those who have never experienced a super cyclone, here is a small video to give an impression of how it looks like.

It was complete mayhem on Puri coast and Bhubaneswar city as the cyclone approached on 3rd May.  At the weather monitoring station on Puri sea beach, the Anemometer clocked Cyclone Fani at 274 kmph before the winds broke it. After landfall, Puri recorded gusts upto 250 KMPH and sustained wind velocity upto 240 KMPH while Bhubaneswar was hit with 205 KMPH gusts. It slowed down further as it travelled on land. Puri district along with Puri town itself and Khurdha district which state capital Bhubaneswar is a part of, have taken the worst hit.

To give a picture of the destruction Foni has caused, sample this. 1,56,000 electric poles have been uprooted, 10,000+ 11 KV transformers are affected, 200 33KV towers, 19 132 KV towers and 5 400 KV towers have fallen to the ground. 5030 KM of 33 KV lines,  38,613 KM of 11 KV lines and 79,485 KM of LT lines have been destroyed. Odisha’s energy secretary Hemant Sharma puts it that the entire grid network in Puri and Bhubaneswar has to be built from scratch.

1,89,095 houses are damaged in Puri district alone. One of the major victims of the cyclone is the Green canopy and worst sufferer is the picturesque highway between Puri and Konark along the coastline, popularly known as a marine drive. Lakhs of Casuarina plantation, Cashew nut plantations, Coconut trees which lined up the stretch are no more. This stretch, also known as Balukhand reserve forest, is home to Blackbucks, spotted deers and other species. With their natural habitat destroyed, not only the animals have lost their home, with the forest cover thinning, the coastal villages along the line lost the natural cushion against such vagaries of weather. And with the Green cover gone, coastal Odisha awaits another blistering hot summer.

In the aftermath of the cyclone, state and central governments have joined hands to put life back on track. Teams of National Disaster Response Force (NDRF), Odisha Disaster Rapid Action Force (ODRAF), Fire department personnel and  Odisha police force are on the ground clearing debris, cutting fallen trees branches and clearing out roads so that places are accessible and relief can reach. CESU, OPTCL and FEDCO teams are pulling extra hours to resurrect the power infrastructure and restore electricity. We met these men in uniform from the NDRF team, who are clearing out debris so that the electricity network can be restored. With the infamous sweltering summer of Odisha, where the temperature is hovering around 43 degrees, the chain saw machines are sometimes giving up, but not our men. They are unrelenting and resolute.

With no power to two entire districts, the hoarding bazaar is working overtime. As Mundali barrage pump house suffered heavy damage post the cyclone, there is no drinking water supply to Bhubaneswar and adjoining areas. Puri is also going through drinking water crisis of epic proportion. Though villages have hand pump and traditional wells, town areas are entirely dependent on tapped water and motor pumps drawing water from bore wells. With no power, there is no water on the overhead tank and taps are running dry. The genset owners are making a fortune out of this. They are charging somewhere between Rs. 1000 to 1500 to power an 0.5 KVA motor for 1 hour. The authorities have fixed water supply to some part of Bhubaneswar but Puri is still reeling under a severe drinking water crisis. Some gensets owners are even charging 50 to 100 bucks to recharge a mobile phone as people staying outside the state are frantically trying to reach to their families and enquire about their well being.

Most grids in Bhubaneswar City Distribution Division (BCDD) are charged while work on the LT lines remains. Indian Oil on a priority basis has provided Diesel to vital installations like airport, stations and hospitals. Power has been restored to some hospitals. Fuel pumps opened 1 day after the cyclone. Packaged milk was available as the plant re-opened 3 days after cyclone. Some ATMs have now started working through their VSAT link. All arterial roads and highways are now open to vehicular traffic enabling relief to reach people. Community food centres are providing cooked food to the worst affected. Cellular companies have joined hands to provide communication links to consumers from whatever towers remain functional. IOCL has started mobile fuel pumps delivering fuel at the doorstep.

Many volunteers group are organising relief distribution. Drinking water is being supplied on a war footing basis.

Authorities are saying that by 12th May, all of Bhubaneswar City will be back on the grid while for Puri, it may take more than a month as a total of 1,56,000 electric poles need to be erected. Life is limping back to normalcy, slowly but steadily.

Puri, which is usually bustling with visitors is wearing a desolate look. With no access to water and power to more than 30 lakh people, the cities of Puri and Bhubaneswar have plunged into darkness. But there is always a silver lining in the darkness. Yesterday, I was returning to work and as I merged into NH 316 near Rasulgarh, a part of the street lights lit up. It was like a part within me lit up. It was so heartening to see power back in the city and into people’s life.

Though it’s just a small percentage, every little step counts. With normal life has thrown totally out of gear, and Puri being literally ravaged by the cyclone, on the auspicious occasion of Akshay Tritiya yesterday, the Pandas of Puri Jagannath Temple went ahead with Chandan Jatra rituals, which earmarks the start of construction of “Rathas” known as “Ratha Anukula”, for the upcoming Ratha Jatra.

What’s disheartening is the near total absence of MSM from covering an calamity of such an epic proportion, the biggest cyclone to have hit Indian coast in 2 decades, which has affected 1.4 crore people. People have been living in dark without food, electricity or drinking water. Lives and livelihood have been lost. It’s understood that, in an election season, a natural calamity may not give them the TRP or eyeballs, especially from a less talked about state. But as responsible organisations, there are times when you should rise up from the number games and report events of such massive order.

As Prateek puts it, Dharma is our backbone, our identity and it should and it must live on. The land of Prabhu Jagannath’s will bounce back, one step at a time, with His blessings.

Note: If you would like to donate for relief to Odisha, here is the link for Chief Minister’s Relief Fund

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