Super relief: The night govt and IMD saved the day
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"Hundreds feared killed as winds with a velocity of over 260 km per hour batter 10 coastal districts of Orissa for over eight hours. A panicked state government, ill prepared, calls in for help. The scale of devastation not known even a day after the disaster as communication to thousands of villages cut off. The blame for not preparing for the calamity falls equally on the weather department ".
That was the news that hit the front page of this newspaper on October 30, 1999, the day after the super cyclone hit Orissa.
Cut 14 years ahead and the story of Phailin is totally different: 9,800 died then, 14 deaths have been reported so far this time; thousands evacuated then, more than 5 lakh taken to rescue shelters in 2013; communications completely destroyed then, Orissa is talking about restoration already now.
While the severity of the cyclone was by most indications lesser, the stark difference in casualties in one of the potentially worst natural disasters to hit India in decades was due to a combination of people, organisations and events, including the Meterological Department, the state government and Centre, that could become a role model for future disaster mitigation.
The Weather Department
Defending its turf in the face of foreign 'experts' who predicted, varyingly, total annihilation to gentle winds, a well-equipped and confident Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) managed to not only get the scale of the natural event correct but was also accurate as it could be in the location of where the storm would hit the coast.
In 1999, the IMD had four long days to track and warn about the cyclone approaching Orissa. Lacking modern technology, there were only two days of warning that a simple cyclone originating from the Malay peninsula had picked up speed in the Bay of Bengal to emerge as a super cyclone.