Op-Ed: Memories of A Super-cyclone

By Ashutosh Mishra

Bhubaneswar: It was like any other morning that day back in 1999. The sky was slightly overcast and a gentle breeze was blowing outside my apartment. I surveyed the sky and the surroundings with a sense of relief.

The night before Met department had forecast a cyclone that was about to hit the Odisha coast. But even the most seasoned weatherman would not have imagined the ferocity of the coming disaster. It was a super-cyclone with a wind speed of 300 kms per hour that hit the coast barely an hour after I had reassured myself that everything was going to be fine.

If memory serves me right it was around 10 am that the wind picked up and soon every tree surrounding my apartment in the Nayapalli area of the city was shaking violently. As the wind became gustier I saw trees crashing and thatched roofs of houses in a nearby slum flying through the air.

The wind was accompanied by torrential rains which made visibility difficult. Within minutes the power went off and then entire apartment was plunged in darkness. At the top of its destructive power the wind had smashed the window panes of many houses and water was gushing in. Soon the corridors of the apartment were flooded with water and there was chaos all around. I could hear people running, shouting and shrieking. There was simply no method in the madness unleashed by the storm that was stationary over Bhubaneswar for nearly three hours.

With phone lines damaged there was no way one could contact friends and colleagues. I was desperate to inform my office in Delhi about the situation in Bhubaneswar. I could have dictated the story over phone but that was not an option. I remember moving out of my house around evening when the gale appeared to have spent itself as far as the state capital is concerned.

In those days outstation journalists used to fax their copes from the Central Telegraph Office (CTO) at the PMG square. Armed with my fax card I reached the CTO, negotiating fallen trees and electric poles on the roads, but neither fax nor tele-printer lines were working. The only way of sending your story across was to dictate it over the phone but even phone lines were down.

It was the first time I came to know about the existence of satellite phones. I was told that a satellite phone was working at the residence-cum-office of chief minister, Giridhar Gamang who was supposed to be a media-friendly person. But I was disappointed even there as the phone, I was told, had practically been monopolised by few privileged journalists who were close to the chief minister.

If I remember correctly I could dictate my story to the office over phone only the next day when telephone service in the state capital was partially restored. Colleagues from Delhi told me that it came out well in the next day’s paper, a copy of which I got in Bhubaneswar only a few days later when normality was restored. But the thought that I was unable to send my story on day one itself torments me still.

(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.)