A rare summer cyclone that tore through parts Odisha killed at least 38 people in India and 15 in neighboring Bangladesh and smashed thousands of thatched-roof huts, officials said. More than 10 million people living in 14,835 villages and 46 towns across the districts of Puri, Khurda, Balasore, Bhadrak, Cuttack, Dhenkanal, Ganjam, Jagatsinghpur, Jajpur, Kendrapara and Mayurbhanj were affected by cyclone Fani, special relief commissioner Bishnupada Sethi said. The massive evacuation prevented a much worse death toll from one of the biggest storms in decades. The preparations demonstrated greatly improved disaster readiness since 1999, when a "super" cyclone killed about 10,000 people and devastated large parts of Odisha.
Authorities in Odisha were still assessing the full impact of Cyclone Fani, which lashed coastal areas with rain and winds gusting up to 205 km per hour when it made a landfall last Friday, relief official S.K. Das said. After weakening, the cyclone moved into neighboring Bangladesh through India's West Bengal. Telephone links were destroyed in the worst-hit Puri district in Odisha. Hundreds of thousands of people in Puri and Khurda districts went without electricity after the cyclone hit the state. Indian Railways had cancelled 287 trains passing through the worst-hit region because of damage caused by the cyclone.
"Cyclone Fani is one of the rarest of rare summer cyclones to hit Odisha in 43 years. It is also one of three to hit in the last 150 years," said the state chief minister Navin Patnaik. Tropical cyclones usually occur in the Bay of Bengal from September to November.
Odisha is trying to figure out the extent of damage caused by the cyclone, though government sources said more than £120 million worth of power infrastructure was destroyed. The government is working overtime to establish road connectivity with Puri, where the cyclone made its landfall. Brajabandhu Dash, superintendent of Puri District Headquarters Hospital, said 25 bodies were brought to the hospital so far. Most of the people were killed either due to roof and wall collapse or by falling branches. Hospital sources said most of the deaths occurred when the victims ventured out after the cyclone hit land. The hospital authorities also claimed to have treated around 300 injured.
More than 10,000 villages and 52 towns in nine districts of Odisha were affected as heavy rain pounded the state all through the day. Paddy and other crops were severely damaged in coastal districts due to flooding. CM Patnaik said Puri town and district had suffered huge damage. "Energy infrastructure has been completely destroyed. Restoration of electricity is a challenging task,” he said.
UN praises India's response
The United Nations and other experts have praised India for its early warning systems and rapid evacuation of more than 10 million people, which helped minimise the loss of life from a deadly cyclone. Denis McClean, a spokesperson for UNISDR, said "the almost pinpoint accuracy" of the early warnings from the IMD had enabled the authorities to "conduct a well-targeted evacuation plan". Social media users also lauded the Indian authorities for averting a mass humanitarian disaster, despite the fact that a densely populated region was in the eye of the storm. "Credit goes to India authorities for their aggressive pre-impact response, including massive evacuations," wrote Josh Morgerman, a United States-based cyclone expert.
Because of its rarity, the tracking and prediction was very challenging. In fact, till 24 hours of landfall, one was not sure about the trajectory it was going to take because of the predictions of different agencies, Patnaik said in a statement.