NEW DELHI: Cyclone Fani, the strongest to hit India in five years, crashed into Odisha on Friday, mowing down infrastructure and farms but authorities appeared to have kept the death toll down, following a mammoth evacuation effort.
Fani made landfall early in the morning in Puri, wreaking havoc as it barrelled through 18 districts of Odisha and Andhra Pradesh, packing wind speeds of 175-185kmph, gusting up to 205kmph.
According to a PTI report, eight people were killed. Sitanshu Kar, government of India spokesperson, said: “As per telephonic information, in Puri, extensive damage (has been caused) to kuchha houses, old buildings and temporary shops. No confirmed report of deaths, but 160 reportedly injured. Power and telecom is completely down."
To be sure, with communication infrastructure affected, authorities were still gathering information on Friday evening, which means the final count could go up.
Additionally, the immediate impact of the monster cyclone was felt in the populated districts of Puri and Khordha (which encompass parts of the state capital Bhubaneswar), besides Cuttack, Nayagarh, Balasore and Kendrapada, sharpening the chances of an upward revision once the cyclone subsides.
Better preparedness and coordination between the central and state governments, fine tuned over the days that the storm gathered strength over the Bay of Bengal, helped in minimizing casualties.
The India Meteorological Department (IMD) and Odisha’s special relief commissioner said the tropical cyclone made landfall in Puri district soon after 8am.
“The state evacuated 1.08 million people and moved them to safer shelters in coastal districts," said Odisha special relief commissioner Bishnupada Sethi. The cyclone will likely continue to pack in high wind speeds till late night in Odisha before weakening and moving to West Bengal, and then Bangladesh.
“The very severe cyclonic storm is very likely to continue to move north and northeastwards and weaken further into a severe cyclonic storm over the next six hours," Odisha’s disaster monitoring department said in a statement on Friday evening.
The cyclone caused widespread damage to homes, shops, vehicles, and uprooted tens of thousands of trees in Odisha and Andhra Pradesh. Power supply and telecom services were disrupted, the Press Information Bureau said. Videos shared on social media by local residents, politicians and authorities showed a trail of destruction.
“Extensive damage to structure of AIIMS Bhubaneswar reported due to cyclone Fani. All patients, staff, students safe. Many water tanks have blown off, lighting poles are down, air-conditioners damaged. We have enough supplies, ready to support the state," Kar said.
Politician Jay Panda, who is camping in his home district Kendrapara, tweeted that television broadcasting towers were damaged in Bhubaneswar, blacking out several regional TV channels. “Very reminiscent of 1999 (cyclone). This will require rescue, relief and much restoration and rebuilding," Panda tweeted.
Over 10,000 people were killed in Odisha in a super cyclone in 1999. In 2013, cyclone Phailin, with a slightly higher intensity than cyclone Fani, killed 44 people.
“The Puri Konark marine drive is completely cut off and road and electricity networks are severely damaged. It’s difficult to move out of homes even now," said Smarajit Nayak, a Bhubaneswar resident.
In West Bengal, authorities shut down the Kolkata airport as a precautionary measure.
“Central government is in all readiness to support Odisha state for Fani cyclone. Medical teams and public health teams in readiness to support state as per need. Emergency medicines are being provided to state on request," union health secretary Preeti Sudan said in New Delhi.
The National Disaster Response Force said it has positioned 54 relief and rescue teams along the east coast and in flood-prone areas of Odisha, Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal, Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Jharkhand, Kerala and Tamil Nadu.
Besides, 20 state disaster response teams of Odisha have already started clearing roads in places, including Gopalpur and Ganjam, where the wind intensity has weakened.