(Rain, winds leave destruction across coastal Odisha)
The extremely severe cyclonic storm Fani barrelled into the Odisha coast on Friday morning, unleashing torrential rain and winds gusting up to 175 kmph, killing at least eight people, bringing rail and air transport to a halt, and swamping towns and villages, officials said.
The cyclonic system made landfall at 8 a.m. near the coastal pilgrim town of Puri and brought heavy winds and rainfall to the State capital Bhubaneswar and Cuttack.
While the system weakened to a ‘very severe cyclonic storm’, it is expected to cause significant damage as it moves north-northeast through coastal Odisha and West Bengal towards Bangladesh. The system lay centred about 20 km west of Balasore and 200 km west-south west of Kolkata around 8.30 p.m. on Friday, with wind speeds of 110-120km per hour, gusting at 135 km per hour.
More than one million people in low-lying areas were evacuated to nearly 4,000 shelters, ahead of the cyclone’s landfall.
Odisha authorities said Fani caused extensive damage to thatched houses as well as several temporary structures. “160 people have been injured and admitted to hospital for treatment. The Special Circuit House, Puri, the Office and Residence of the SP and the Collector have been badly damaged along with many other buildings,” said a note from the State Emergency Operation Centre, Bhubaneswar.
Electricity was disrupted in several places and many trees were uprooted, leading to damaged roads and communication networks.
The roof of the hostel building at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, Bhubaneswar, was blown away.
With aviation equipment at Bhubaneswar’s Biju Patnaik International Airport significantly damaged, flight operations remained suspended on Friday, while Paradip and Gopalpur ports were also closed as a precautionary measure.
Around 220 trains on the Howrah-Chennai route have been cancelled, an East Coast Railway official said.
Cyclone Fani was a ‘re-curving cyclone’ and therefore a harder to precisely predict than most cyclones. Recurving cyclones’ are those that sharply turn north-eastwards instead of a more typical parth of north-westwards. In the Indian context, they are relatively rare and harder to track.
It also had an unusually long gestation period of atleast 10 days.
The trajectory of the cyclone largely conformed to the IMD’s estimates that it would make landfall by Friday noon and bring heavy rains to Orissa, West Bengal and parts of coastal Andhra Pradesh.
Fani was the strongest cyclone to have passed India since cyclone Hudhud in 2014. It’s also the first time since 1976 that a cyclone of such intensity will be blowing through India in April, IMD records show. While severe cyclones (defined as generating maximum windspeeds of 89-117 kmph) can form any time, they tend to be concentrated in November — after the monsoon — or around May, when the monsoon prepares to arrive in Kerala in June.
The IMD ranks cyclones on a 5-point scale with the mildest at 62-88 kmph and the strongest, a ‘super cyclonic storm’, at 221 kmph).
Odisha pulls out all stops to restore normalcy after Fani fury
Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, who reviewed the situation in following the landfall of severe cyclonic storm Fani, said Puri district, particularly the holy town had suffered huge damage. “Energy infrastructure has been completely destroyed. Restoration of electricity is a challenging task,” he said.
Hundreds of engineers and technicians worked on a war-footing to restore power supply. Work is on to restore road communication, thrown into disarray with thousands of uprooted trees blocking the way in innumerable places, Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik said.
He said since the cyclone was still passing through Odisha, it will take time to make an assessment of the damage.
National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) DIG Randeep Rana said not many casualties were reported so far as precautionary measures were in place.
The Chief Minister said nearly 12 lakh people were evacuated and shifted to safer locations within 24 hours ahead of the cyclone from about 10,000 villages and 52 urban agglomerations in probably the largest such exercise at the time of a natural calamity in the country.
The evacuees have been accommodated in over 4,000 shelters, including 880 specially designed cyclone centres where free cooked food is being served to them, he said.
After the landfall, the system is expected to sweep north-northeast through coastal Odisha towns of Khurda, Cuttack, Jajpur, Bhadrak and Balasore before entering West Bengal, Special Relief Commissioner (SRC) B P Sethi said.
Threat to Bengal
Meanwhile, West Bengal braced for the remnants of the severe cyclone with precautionary measures for districts like East and West Midnapore, both North and South 24 Parganas besides, Howrah, Hooghly, Jhargram and Kolkata and Sundarbans.
The sky was overcast in Kolkata and several other places since Friday morning as rain came in spurts, inundating several parts of the state capital. Traffic snarls were reported from different places in the city. Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee cancelled all election rallies over the next 48 hours and is monitoring the situation.
“The eye of the storm is likely to be weakened when it enters West Bengal. The wind speed will be around 100 kmph to 110 kmph,” an official of the meteorological department said.
Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) announced that said no flights will depart or arrive at Kolkata airport from 3 p.m. on Friday till 8 a.m. on Saturday. A red alert has been issued in coastal areas and fishermen have been asked not to venture into the sea.
(The Hindu, With inputs from PTI)