Minati Mahalik, 48, of Shyamsunderpur village under Nilagiri subdivision of of Balasore district, standing speechless and helpless. Only four broken walls left as a mark of her house. Though the very severe cyclone Yaas, which left a trail of devastation in Balasore and other districts of Odisha on Tuesday (26th May ) morning, spared her life, it blown up everything. Minati is not the lone survivors of this disaster but she is a witness to the four major cyclones occurred in the last 22 years in Odisha.
“The wind's whistling is still ringing in my ears. Nothing has left in my house. I have no food no shelter, nothing to survive. Please help me,” said a traumatized Minati.
Recalling Past Experience Of ‘Super Cyclone 1999’
Cyclone Yaas was alike the deadly storms that devastated her decades ago. Minati lost her family members in 1999 super cyclone that killed more than 10,000 people and decimated 2.75 lakh homes along a 200 kms stretch of the Odisha coastline.
“We were staying in Paradip that time. My brother was working in a prawn farm in the area. He was staying there with his families. 22 years ago in 1999 October 29, the deadly super cyclone hit Odisha coast. We were totally unaware that the cyclone will come in such intensity. The storm was furious; the tidal waves entered to the locality, we used ropes and had tied ourselves with each other at night so that we wouldn't be washed away or drift apart. I did not know when I fell unconscious, when I woke up; I did not found anybody. I was crazy to search them. After eight days with the help of a local NGO I came to know that my brother and his pregnant wife were dead. My father had gone missing. I and my mother had no choice except to come to my maternal place here in Balasore district. We were shattered and had no wish to live. My uncle helped us a lot. I got married here only .Till date, I am unable to forget the dreaded memory of the Super cyclone,” her voice trembled while narrating her ordeal.
Yaas Swept Away Their Dreams
42 years old Jhili Behera of Oupada block of Balasore district salvage materials from her house completely demolished during Cyclone Yaas. “On May 25th evening, we were asked to take shelter in a primary school, which is 1 km away from our locality. We did not want to go leaving behind our cattle and goats but the administration pushed us to shift. On 26th early morning the wind started roaring with a frightening noise. Children were crying due to fear. Within few minutes, the roar was back with renewed vigor, pummeling everything in its path. Asbestos sheets getting torn like paper sheets, trees were falling down, electric poles toppling over and vehicles getting smashed. We all were praying for our safety,” she shivered recalling the dreadful day.
“On May 27th morning when we back to the village, we found our house being turned into debris. Our only boat was broken down into pieces. We lost everything in this cyclone. We are worried how my husband will go for fishing. We have no money to buy food. My three small children are crying in hunger. We do not have proper meal for the last two days apart from a small packet of ‘chuda’ given to us by someone which was not enough for a family of five,” lamented Jhili.
Like Minati and Jhili, there are many in cyclone affected districts this time who are shattered after the nature’s fury took away everything from them including their means of livelihood.
Ghanshyam Mandal and his wife Maya Mandal, another couple from the fishermen community of Bhograi of Balasore district, burst into tears as they told that a fishing godown, they once owned, reduced to rubble by the storm.
“I had built the godown with my own hands, with my own money. The cyclone tore it apart. My small boat is also missing, a stock of fish worth over Rs 50,000 was kept in the godown, when Yaas struck it,” said Ghanshyam while collecting fish buried beneath the godown debris.
“Last year also due to Cyclone Amphan, we had to bear a huge loss. We are yet to recover from the loss and again this Yaas swept away everything; there is no roof over head. No rice to eat. No boat. No livelihood. This plight is unbearable. It would have been better, had the cyclone killed us,” Maya cried.
The ‘Very Severe Cyclonic Storm’ Yaas made landfall on May 26 between the north of Dhamra coast in Bhadrak district and Bahanaga coast in Balasore district. According to the India Meteorological Department, the storm crossed the north Odisha coast about 20 km south of Balasore between 10.30 a.m. and 11.30 a.m. with an estimated wind speed of 130-140 kmph. The cyclone hit the coast with far less intensity than what it was predicted. Due to the seawater ingression, 128 villages in Balasore and Bhadrak district were swamped. Dreaded cyclone has caused extensive damage to the Power supply lines in coastal area. Hundreds of thatched houses were ravaged.
Odisha government successfully managed to evacuate about 2 lakh people from the coastal districts of Bhadrak and Balasore and shifted them to the safe place. “Our chief Minister asked us to protect each and every life. He said that each life is precious and for this we had tried to save the lives. We had the experience of previous cyclone so as soon as the meteorology department alerted us, we activated our entire systems and started preparation to save lives. All the district collectors and senior bureaucrats along with the police administration geared up and reacted quickly,” P.K Jena, Special relief commissioner, Government of Odisha, said. According to Government source, pregnant women, persons with disability and elderly people were identified and special care was taken while shifting them to the shelters. Around 4,500 pregnant women were identified out of which 2,500 were shifted to hospitals. On the day Cyclone Yaas made landfall, 190 childbirths were reported in Odisha.
The disaster response team included 52 teams of NDRF (20 to 25 members per team), 60 teams of Odisha Disaster Rapid Action Force (13 members per team), 206 fire service teams (8 to 13 members per team), 50 platoons of Odisha Special Armed Police, 86 tree cutter teams from state forest department (8 members including 1 officer per team). Apart from this 154 workers from the public welfare department, 313 teams of rural development department (1 junior engineer and 22 laborers per team), 104 teams for road cleaning, 606 engineering department teams including officers and laborers. At least 10,000 members from the energy department were pre-deployed in strategic locations such as hospitals and other important places to help the administration in faster restoration. Diesel generator sets and mobile tankers were in place in strategic location for uninterrupted water supply.
Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik on Wednesday announced seven days' relief for the affected families. He also directed officials to ensure that all major roads affected by the cyclone should be repaired and 80 per cent of electricity supply in affected districts be restored within the next 24 hours. “As per the instructions, with the help of the local panchayat bodies and block level officials, we have ensured to provide the cook food to the people of affected villages,” Special Relief Commissioner (SRC) P K Jena Informed.
Covid -19 Challenges
It was not easy to evacuate lakhs of people and shifting them to safe place or the cyclone shelters at the time where the state is already battling with corona virus infections. Despite Odisha chief Minister Naveen Patnaik’s appeal to people to move to cyclone shelters and to wear double masks and maintain social distancing in a televised address on Monday, many of them did not follow this. Now when life and livelihood are shattered due to the cyclone, it seems quite challenging for the Government to ensure that they are following the Covid guidelines at this movement. The health experts are also apprehensive about the spread of Coronavirus aftermath of Yaas.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has done an arial survey of the cyclone Yaas affected area and has announced financial assistance of Rs 500 crore to Odisha. With this assistance and effort of the state Government, hopefully the lives of Jhili, Minati, Maya, Ghansyam and several others will back to track soon.