'Want to ensure zero casualty... Leave or perish'

CycloneWaves rose to a height of 10-15 feet in Ganjam district. Partha Paul

Cyclone Phailin was just some 250-odd kilometres away, over the Bay of Bengal, on Saturday morning, but S Parsaiya, a 49-year-old fisherman, did not seem very worried about the high speed winds which blew away his thatched hut.

In fact, he would have remained in his hut in Golabandha village on the sea shore if the district officials had not driven him away to the nearby cyclone shelter. Almost the entire village of Golabandha, comprising about 2,000 people, had not relocated till this morning.

"I am just giving you half-an-hour to vacate your homes. If you do not listen to me, then don't blame me for the consequences," shouted Ganjam District Collector Dr Krishan Kumar, who has been overseeing the evacuation of around 2 lakh people in the last three days. "Why don't you take our announcements seriously? Do you want to die?"

Parsaiya shifted his family to the cyclone shelter near the village, but stayed back to keep a watch on their belongings, hoping that the cyclone threat would fizzle out at the last moment.

As the waves rose higher, the district officials, accompanied by local BJD MLA Pradip Panigrahi, gave the Golabandha villagers a stern ultimatum: "Leave or perish with the sea."

Like Parsaiya, fisherman U Bairagi was undecided on whether to leave for the cyclone shelter, as he sat in his house, eating his lunch of rice and roasted dry fish. "We never knew the storm would come. We only thought about the winds," he said.

"We want to ensure zero casualty. Unless people leave their thatched houses within 10 km of the coastline for higher ground, how does one ensure their safety," said Kumar.

Though over 60,000 people willingly shifted to the cyclone shelters by Friday evening, the district administration found it difficult to convince the remaining villagers to evacuate their homes.

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