Bhubaneswar: October 29, 1999. This date is deeply etched in the memories of people of Odisha. It was the day when tragedy struck in the form of a Super Cyclone which ripped through many parts of the State, leaving a trail of destruction.
Even after 21 years, the date still gives jitters to many, especially those who survived the tragedy and witnessed the devastation from close quarters.
One of them is Mrutyunjay Mohapatra, the present director general of India Meteorological Department (IMD). He was posted at Bhubaneswar coordinating with the Odisha government and giving updates about the development of the cyclone and subsequent intensification into a super cyclone.
In an exclusive interview to OTV, Mohapatra informed that when the super cyclone crossed Paradip coast on October 29, 1999, it had a wind speed ranging from 260 to 280 km/hr and it was for the first time that such an intense and powerful super-cyclone had hit the State.
“As a young meteorologist, we were able to predict that it will cross Paradip on October 29. The Kolkata centre had claimed a different path, but we stuck with our previous prediction. Eventually, by night it turned into a super cyclone,” said Mohapatra.
According to Mohapatra, the super cyclone remained cantered over Cuttack-Bhubaneswar-Paradip for nearly 30 hours and caused extensive damage to life and property.
“Earlier there were no advanced scientific equipment and infrastructure to deal with such natural disasters including cyclone shelters. There were no proper communication facilities like mobile phones and we only had telegram which was a time consuming affair,” said Mohapatra.
The IMD DG further stated that, “Through a hotline with All India Radio (AIR), we were providing bulletins/ updates every three hours. We could not share the information early that it will be a super cyclone as we did not have the required technology and even the analog radar got damaged under the impact of strong winds.”
However, we used police wireless and AIR systems to send messages and alert senior officials of the State government. There was only one media house, OTV at that time.
“On October 29 morning, heavy rain battered different parts of the State including Bhubaneswar and there was water seepage inside Bhubaneswar Met office and our telephone lines worked for a brief time. At around 10:30 AM we got completely cut-off from the rest of the world,” he said.
Post-super cyclone of 1999, things have changed, now we have high-end computing systems, modelling and forecast systems. Such advance equipment has now provided us an edge and we are now in a position to predict the path of cyclones in a more accurate way.
Similarly, we are also able to issue warning five days in advance which was also the case with cyclones that hit Odisha in the recent past. Such early prediction has helped the authorities in disaster management in the State, Mohapatra added.
(Edited By Bikram Keshari Jena)