The all too familiar routine that precedes every cyclone in Odisha has begun in right earnest.
With cyclone 'Titli' over the Bay of Bengal intensifying into a very severe cyclonic storm and moving towards the coast, people across coastal Odisha, the region expected to be the worst-hit, are making a beeline for the market to buy essentials like vegetables, candles and match boxes. Repeated assurances by Food and Consumer Affairs minister Surjya Narayan Patro that there is enough stock of essential items have failed to deter the people from indulging in panic buying.
The India Meteorological Department (IMD) said ‘Titli’ lay centred over west-central Bay of Bengal about 280 km south-southeast of Gopalpur in Odisha at 11.30am on Wednesday and is expected to have a landfall somewhere between Gopalpur and Kalingapattnam in north Andhra Pradesh around 5.30am on Thursday.
The wind speed could reach 150 km/hr, gusting up to 165 km/hr, much less than Cyclone Phailin (215 km/hr) in 2013 and Cyclone Hudhud (180km/hr) in 2014. (By a strange coincidence, ‘Titli’ would hit the south Odisha coast on October 11 while the two previous cyclones entered land on October 11!) It is expected to recurve northeastwards and move towards West Bengal, triggering heavy rains across the state over the next 24 hours with as much as 25 centimeters of rains in some places. Most places in coastal Odisha are already experiencing rains since Wednesday morning. The cyclone could damage thatched houses, uproot trees and electric and telephone poles, Director of the Bhubaneswar centre of IMD HR Biswas said.
On its part, the Odisha government has put in place all possible measures to ensure that the losses are kept to the minimum. At a high-level review meeting on Wednesday morning, Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik asked officials to ensure ‘zero casualty’.
Briefing media persons after the review meeting, chief secretary Aditya Prasad Padhi said college elections across the state, scheduled for Thursday, have been postponed while schools, colleges and anganwadi centres in four districts expected to bear the brunt of the cyclone - Ganjam, Gajapati, Puri and Jagatsinghpur – will remain closed on Thursday and Friday.
“We shall take a call on whether to close schools and colleges in other districts on Thursday after taking stock of the situation,” he said. Officials at ground level have been asked to ensure uninterrupted supply of drinking water and power, especially at health facilities, the chief secretary said, adding that leaves of government officials have been cancelled till the situation improves.
Outlining the measures put in place for the impending cyclone, Special Relief Commissioner (SRC) Bishnupada Sethi said 10 units of National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) and eight units of Orissa Disaster Rapid Action Force (ODRAF) have been deployed in the eight districts expected to be worst hit. “We are in constant touch with the Army, Air Force and Coast Guard and would requisition their services if required,” he said. The 836 cyclone shelters along the coast, each with a capacity of 1000, are ready to accommodate people in low lying areas. Evacuation of people living close to the sea has started in Ganjam while adequate food stuff, medicines and lights have been stocked, the SRC said.
Water Resources secretary Pradeep Jena said there is a threat of floods, especially in Bansadhara and Rushikulya in south Odisha, due to the heavy rains triggered by Cyclone Titli. “We are ready to face any situation,” Jena said.
After the massive devastation caused by the Super Cyclone on October 29, 1999, Odisha has put in place elaborate measures to keep damages to a minimum in case of a cyclone.
The efforts include the creation of Odisha State Disaster Management Authority (OSDMA), a dedicated agency for disaster monitoring and preparedness, and raising of ODRAF, a specialised force adept at rescue operations and construction of hundreds of cyclone shelters across its 480-km long coast which earned praise for its commendable work during the recent floods in Kerala.
The measures ensured that the casualties in Phailin, the last severe cyclone to hit Odisha, were restricted to just 22 and earned praise from across the world, including the UN. Considering that Cyclone Titli would be of a much lesser intensity, the state government appears confident that it can ‘weather the storm’.