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COMMENTARY

How Odisha Managed the Phailin Disaster


Satya Prakash Dash

Phailin, the very severe cyclonic storm that struck Odisha on 12 October, would have exacted a high price in terms of human lives along with the trail of destruction it left behind if the state administration had not been able to effectively contain hazards and deal with its aftermath. Accurate weather forecasting, effective planning, and the dedication showed by the administrative machinery helped make it an almost zero casualty natural disaster. Given that the super cyclone of 1999 claimed nearly 10,000 lives in Odisha, this was a remarkable achievement.

Satya Prakash Dash (satya.csd@gmail.com) is with Sambalpur University, Burla, Western Odisha.
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disaster, according to the National Policy on Disaster Management (2009), is a catastrophe, mishap, calamity or grave occurrence from natural or man-made causes, which is beyond the coping capacity of the affected community. Odisha is no stranger to natural disasters with its long coastline adjoining the Bay of Bengal making it vulnerable to cyclonic storms and their aftermath of heavy rain and oods. The state experienced a disaster of great magnitude when a super cyclone struck it on 29 October 1999. The eye of the super cyclone struck the port town of Paradeep in Jagatsinghpur district, and its cost in terms of human lives was almost 10,000. The meteorological department had issued a warning to the state administration, but it was not taken seriously by either the ofcials concerned or the people. This resulted in lives lost and large-scale destruction, even in the capital city of Bhubaneswar. The 1999 super cyclone exposed weaknesses in the states preparedness to face natural disasters and also its measures to mitigate their effects. It compelled both the state and central governments to rethink their policies on disaster management and take steps to prevent such tragedies in the future. Information technology was effectively
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pressed into use in weather forecasting and other disaster management programmes. The National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) and the Odisha State Disaster Management Authority (OSDMA) were created at the national and state levels. Dedicated forces in the form of the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) and the Odisha Disaster Rapid Action Force (ODRAF) were also formed to provide trained manpower for rescue and relief operations. In short, the super cyclone of 1999 was an eye-opener for natural disaster management in India. On 7 October 2013, the meteorological department warned that a severe cyclonic storm, Phailin, would hit Odisha on 12 October. It said Phailins effects would be felt from Kalingapatnam in Andhra Pradesh to Paradeep in Odisha, and that it would probably rst strike the port of Gopalpur in Ganjam district at about 5 pm on 12 October. The wind speed could touch 200 km per hour (kmph), and Phailin would bring heavy rains to the interior districts. On 10 October, the prediction of a severe cyclone was converted to a very severe cyclonic storm with wind speeds up to 220 kmph. Cyclonic storms are categorised as severe when the wind speed is in the 90 kmph to 199 kmph range; very severe when it is in the 200 kmph to 220 kmph range; and as super cyclones when it exceeds 220 kmph. At the same time, the US Navys Joint Typhoon Warning Centre predicted Phailin would have wind speeds up to 315 kmph. The meteorological departments forecast that seven coastal districts Ganjam, Gajapati, Jagatsinghpur, Khurda, Puri,
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Nayagarh and Kendrapara would be affected was a chilling reminder of the super cyclone of 1999. To make matters worse, Phailin was coming during the festive period of Dussehera, when all government ofces would be closed from 11 to 14 October. Preparing for Disaster The state administration wasted no time in cancelling the Dussehera holidays, citing the impending threat of Phailin. Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik wrote to the defence minister asking for the deployment of defence personnel to carry out rescue and relief operations. The NDRF was also requested to send a team to the state to deal with the fallout of Phailin. The ODRAF was pressed into action in the districts, and medical, civil supply, and power personnel were put on alert. Disaster relief operations in Odisha are supervised by the special relief commissioner (SRC) to the state government. The SRC made arrangements for relief materials and procured dry foods and other essential commodities from the market. It was initially decided to airdrop relief packets, each containing starched rice with gur, water pouches, candles, salt, and a matchbox, in the affected areas. The state administration secured 700 quintals of starched rice and placed an order for 1,700 quintals from neighbouring Chhattisgarh. The SRC directed all the seven district collectors to evacuate people living in low areas to safe places such as schools and colleges or cyclone shelters. The cyclone shelters had been built after the super cyclone in places prone to cyclonic storms. The evacuation was planned to take place on the morning of 12 October. Repeated announcements were made on radio and television about the cyclone and instructions the people had to follow for their own safety. The state administrations main objective was to prevent human casualties in the wake of Phailin. It adopted a zero loss to life approach and all measures to meet Phailin were thoroughly planned. They were monitored by the chief minister himself, who held many meetings with various state-level and district-level ofcials. It was during the last phase of
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preparations that L S Rathore, the director general of the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD), informed the state administration that Phailin had been converted into a very severe cyclonic storm. The evacuation plan was then changed instead of moving people on the morning of 12 October, it was decided to do so the day before. This decision was to prevent rain from hampering the evacuation process. Messages to this effect were immediately transmitted to the district collectors and a massive exercise had to be undertaken in a very short time. But the district ofcials were geared up to meet the challenge and successfully accomplished it. As the SRC stated, 9,83,553 people were evacuated to safer places by the morning of 12 October. Of this, 1,80,000 people were evacuated in Ganjam district alone, and more than 1,00,000 people each in Jagatsinghpur and Puri districts. Instead of distributing dry food to the evacuated people, it was decided to give them cooked food at the shelters. District ofcials were directed to provide cooked rice and dalma (pulses with vegetables) so that the dry food could be kept in reserve or used for airdrops in inaccessible or ood-affected areas. Providing cooked food to such a large number of people was a difcult proposition, especially with a cyclone and heavy rain in the ofng. However, the district administrations managed to pull it off. And, as later events proved, advancing the evacuation of people by a day possibly saved thousands of lives. Phailin Arrives The very severe cyclonic storm had its landfall at Gopalpur port at about 9 pm on 12 October. Winds with a speed of 200 kmph swept the port town in Ganjam district and nearby places. The city of Berhampur, the headquarters of Ganjam district, and adjoining places were worst hit. The sea came in very close in Gopalpur, destroying the boats of shermen, while the wind blew their huts away. Huge trees were uprooted, electric and telephone poles attened, houses ruined, mobile towers crushed, and power stations destroyed. Road communications were disrupted with trees falling across
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them. The destruction was near total in Ganjam district, and parts of Puri district also bore extensive signs of devastation. The other badly affected districts were Nayagarh, Jagatsinghpur and Khurda. In total, Phailins might was experienced by 13 districts in the state. After Phailin crossed the coast and wind speed subsided, there was heavy incessant rainfall in the interior districts. Flash oods occurred in the northern districts of Balasore, Bhadrak, Mayurbhanj and Jajpur. The Jalaka, Budhabalanga, Rushikulaya, Brahmani, Baitarani and Subarnarekha rivers overowed, creating a supplementary disaster that needed urgent attention. The administrations of these four districts evacuated 1,12,241 people from villages in ood-hit areas to safer places. In the worst affected district, Balasore, 7,50,000 people in 1,211 villages bore the brunt of the ash oods. In all, the cyclone and oods affected around 1.2 crore people in 16,487 villages, or 2,015 gram panchayats and 43 urban local bodies, spread over 148 blocks in the state. Phailin and the oods damaged about 4,00,000 houses and 1,182 power transformers in 17 districts. Loss of Energy Infrastructure The energy sector of the state was laid low by Phailin. In Gopalpur, the Narendrapur grid station, which supplied power to Ganjam and other southern districts, was destroyed. According to the Odisha Power Transmission Corporation (OPTC), 24 power grids were affected by Phailin, of which 16 were functional by the evening of 14 October. Six power grids were expected to go on stream in a weeks time, while the remaining were totally wrecked. Thirty-two power towers, which were designed to withstand wind speeds of 250 kmph, were fully damaged and 54 partially damaged. It can be therefore assumed that the wind

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speed was more than 250 kmph in some places. Phailin also damaged 1,748 feeder lines and 4,80,000 electric poles, 30,000 of them beyond repair. Thirteen 33 kilovolt lines were damaged in Berhampur city, alongside nearly 2,000 electricity poles. Forty extra high tension towers (220 kV lines) collapsed in Ganjam and Gajapati districts. According to the state energy secretary, the cost to the power sector of the damage caused by Phailin could be about Rs 900 crore. Of this, Rs 466 crore worth of damage is in Berhampur alone. The chief secretary of Odisha, on 14 October, told the media that restoring the supply of power and water would be the priorities in the Phailin-affected districts. When asked specically about Ganjam district, he said that the question of restoring power immediately to it did not arise because there was no power infrastructure left after the cyclone. The power infrastructure has to be rebuilt in Ganjam before normal supply can be resumed. Loss of Crops There was enormous loss to agriculture because of the twin natural disasters. Crops that would have been ready for harvesting in a months time were destroyed in 6,25,408 hectares of agricultural land, according to preliminary reports. This included paddy on 5,43,587 hectares, pulses on 47,742 hectares, and horticultural crops on 34,079 hectares. In Ganjam district alone, 2,10,000 hectares of paddy were destroyed. This is only a preliminary estimate and the gures could go up after a proper assessment. Compensation to the affected farmers will be given after the actual loss is assessed by the administration. It is anticipated that the crop loss could cost the state government about Rs 2,300 crore. Loss of Trees There has been a massive loss of green cover in the state. Phailin uprooted about 1,00,000 trees in Ganjam and Gajapati districts, and 20,000 in Bhubaneswar. Natural forests on 120 acres were devastated by oods in Balasore and Mayurbhanj districts. Many trees that fell over damaged power lines in Bhubaneswar. The trees in the city were
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mostly fast-growing varieties such as eucalyptus, gulmohar, and teak. Though they grow quickly, they are neither strong nor deep-rooted enough to withstand strong winds. Trees such as banyan, neem, and mango in the city were very much intact, except for the wind breaking off their dry branches. Human Casualties The preparation for Phailin was initiated with the objective of zero casualties. The massive evacuation operation, which nally involved moving 10,95,794 people to safe ground, undoubtedly reduced the loss of lives. Till 16 October, only 28 human casualties had been reported from the affected districts 21 due to Phailin and seven due to oods. There were nine fatalities in Ganjam district, three each in Balasore and Puri, two in Nayagarh, and one each in Khurda, Jagatsinghpur, Bhadrak and Bolangir districts. The deaths due to ash oods were three in Mayurbhanj district and one each in Angul, Bhadrak, Keonjhar and Kandhamal districts. Relief Operations In a review meeting on 13 October, the chief minister said that rehabilitation was now a major challenge for the state administration. He promised that normalcy would soon return to the Phailinaffected areas, and announced immediate food assistance to all those in need. The food assistance has been provided in two categories. Very severely affected families received 50 kg of rice and Rs 500 for pulses (for 14 days) and severely affected families received 25 kg of rice and Rs 300 for pulses (for seven days). Besides, shermen were given 10 kg of rice for the loss of livelihood. Compensation for crop losses and damage to houses will be disbursed in accordance with the norms after a proper assessment is carried out. In the immediate aftermath of Phailin, roads were cleared of trees, and electric poles and towers to make transport and communication possible. The NDRF, ODRAF, police, civil society organisations, and the general public put in a combined effort to clear highways. Once most of the roads were cleared on
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13 October, vehicles could move around and it was decided to continue supplying cooked food to the evacuees. The dry food packets will be distributed to them when they begin leaving the shelters to reconstruct their homes and livelihoods. By 14 October, heavy rains had caused ash oods in four districts of north Odisha. Many of the ood-affected villages were cut off from roads. In Balasore district, around 68,000 people were trapped in their homes or villages, and in Mayurbhanj district, the number was nearly 7,000. Two defence helicopters were dispatched to airdrop food packets to people in these districts, but this was discontinued when it became possible to distribute them by road and boats the next day. In a review meeting on 14 October, the chief minister directed ofcials to buy generator sets to supply water to the Phailin-affected areas. He spoke about the situation on the ground to the prime minister the same day, and requested that technical personnel from the National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) and Power Grid Corporation of India (PGCI) assist with restoring the power supply. He also asked for an increase in the states quota of kerosene. On 15 October, the prime minister announced an ex-gratia payment of Rs 2 lakh to the next of kin of each of the deceased and Rs 50,000 to those seriously injured in the cyclone from the Prime Ministers National Relief Fund. On the same day, the chief minister made an aerial survey of the four ood-hit districts. He announced Rs 4 lakh as ex-gratia assistance to family members of each of those killed in the cyclone and oods. He also directed the authorities concerned to ensure that the victims families received the amount within 48 hours. Some Lapses Several people alleged that had they got neither cooked nor dry food in the cyclone shelters. The president of the Odisha Pradesh Congress Committee said not all people had been supplied cooked food as claimed by the administration. There were also allegations that
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relief materials were diverted by some to make a prot for themselves. Relief distribution is always a major challenge in any disaster and it ought to be properly monitored. There were allegations of corruption in the procurement of relief materials during the super cyclone of 1999. The state administration even issued directions that anyone caught pocketing relief material would be booked under the National Securities Act. In Bhubaneswar and many other places, the restoration of power took a longer time than anticipated. Lack of power led to failure of the water supply system, both leading to great difculties for the people. The administration did not have enough equipment and parts to deal with an emergency and also lacked expert personnel to facilitate expeditious power restoration. The situation was no different after the super cyclone of 1999, and experts from the power sector in Andhra Pradesh had to help restore the power supply. The state energy secretary in a discussion on television on 16 October suggested forming a disaster response cell in the OPTC for restoration of power supply in similar situations and erecting electric towers that can withstand wind speeds of more than 350 km in the cyclone-prone coastal area. He also said underground power cables in such areas would be effective though the initial cost would be very high. Conclusions Despite some drawbacks, it is undeniable that the Odisha state administration was quite effective and efcient both before and after the cyclonic storm. Accurate forecasting was helpful in managing Phailin, and adequate precautionary measures could be taken to minimise hazards. The successful evacuation of people to safe places was a notable feature, and much credit has to go to the ofcials who were engaged in this operation. The team spirit shown by various levels of ofcials supervised by the SRC had a crucial role to play in the success of meeting the challenges Phailin threw up. The personal involvement of the chief minister in the entire episode also has to be acknowledged.
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The Press Trust of India (PTI) reported on 15 October that Margareta Wahlstrom, Special Representative of the UN Secretary General for Disaster Risk Reduction, said that Odishas handling of the very severe cyclone was a landmark success story in disaster management and a successful case study globally. Wahlstrom lauded the efforts of the administrative machinery and told the Times of India, Bhubaneswar, We are very impressed. We have plans to use it as a model for other cities and countries to follow as part of our global efforts on disaster risk reduction. In a meeting on 15 October with the vice chairman of the NDMA the chief minister proposed constructing pucca houses for people living within 5 km of the seashore, building more c yclone and ood shelters, strengthening existing ones, and taking steps to create mangrove forests along the coastline of the state. He wrote a letter to the prime minister on 16 October requesting Rs 1,000 crore as assistance from the centre, and also appealed to all sections of society to generously contribute to the state relief fund. The guiding principle in disaster management is the 4 Rs rescue, relief, rehabilitation, and reconstruction. But the success of the evacuation in Odisha has added a new R to this formula relocation, at least temporarily. A lot now remains to be done in reconstructing and rebuilding infrastructure and livelihoods. The poor and the underprivileged are almost always the worst affected in calamities and disasters. A continuous and integrated process of planning, organising, coordinating, and implementing measures is required to break the vicious cycle. The state administration will have to deal with the aftermath of Phailin and the oods in the coming days by continuing to distribute relief, compensating for damages, and aiding reconstruction and recovery. Postscript Relief procurement and distribution arrangement is another important aspect in disaster preparedness. The administration was prepared with dry food packets prior to the landfall of Phailin.
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Relief distribution in the affected districts did not pose a problem as road connectivity was restored within two days but it certainly posed a problem in the severely affected districts of Balasore, Bhadrak, Puri, Mayurbhanj, and Khurda, due to water logging. Some villages of these areas were still submerged a week after Phailin hit. The villagers being poor farmers with very little savings had no stored food in their mudthatched houses which were damaged. They are the ones who need relief the most but according to the media many of them were left without it. The state revenue minister, in an interview on OTV on 18 October, claimed that about 80% of the affected people received relief and that all the affected would be covered by 22 October. The minister said that in Ganjam district, 494 relief centres had been opened and until 17 October, 91,000 families had received relief in 310 centres. The New Indian Express of 19 October reported that the president of BJPs state unit complained that the stocked relief materials in godowns were not reaching the ood-hit areas. The special relief commissioner said on 19 October that out of the total 11.54 lakh evacuated only 14,400 people were living in shelter centres. The state government had sanctioned Rs 250 crore for relief and restoration work. The state chief secretary submitted a memorandum of Rs 4,242.41 crore for reconstruction, rehabilitation, and grant to the union home secretary on his visit to the affected areas on 20 October.

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