Cyclone Phailin: Riders on the storm

Krishan KumarGanjam SP Ashish Kumar Singh and Collector Krishan Kumar. (IE Photo: Partha Paul)

Dr Krishan Kumar, 37,

District Collector, Ganjam

Phailin was still brewing in the North Andaman Sea around October 9 when Krishan Kumar was called in. The 2002-batch IAS officer and an MBBS doctor, Rohtak-born Kumar carries a reputation of being an upright officer who had efficiently controlled riots in Kandhamal triggered by the killing of VHP leader Laxmanananda Saraswati in 2008, when he was a district collector there.

Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik and Chief Secretary J K Mohapatra, haunted by the memories of the 1999 super cyclone that had left nearly 10,000 dead, set a goal for "zero casualty" this time.

Kumar realised that it meant that major responsibility was upon him as Ganjam was to be the Ground Zero for a cyclone that was being projected by experts abroad as deadlier than the 1999 one and by even the most conservative estimates as a "severe" storm with the capacity to wreak havoc.

The state government decided that all people within 5 km of the Ganjam coastline would have to be evacuated. But Ganjam only had 15 proper cyclone shelters, capable of taking in not more than 15,000 people. Kumar identified 1,045 additional buildings several kilometres away from the coast where 4 lakh people could be accommodated.

"We mapped each such shelter and put either a local revenue inspector or village-level worker in charge so that there was no confusion about who had to go where," says Kumar. Meetings with officials of 22 departments followed and individual responsibilities of each official were fixed. While the Fire Services staff, Rural Development Department and Public Works Department officials were given charge of clearing the roads, BSNL towers were given extra fuel so that they could keep communications running.

Kumar was given the command for the entire district, with the Army and National Disaster Response Force teams that had been deployed also taking orders from him. Unlike 1999, when even the Secretariat in Bhubaneswar hadn't made provisions for back-up power, all major offices in Ganjam district including Kumar's this time had gensets.

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