At 3 pm on Sunday, Laxmi sat in her hut cooking rice, trying hard to protect fire in the chullah from the winds. Her two sons waited for her to serve lunch. Next to the hut, her fisherman husband Jaganna was putting up a polythene sheet to cover a hole in the roof of her mother’s asbestos house. The wind from the sea less than 40 feet away was making it difficult for Jaganna.
Jaganna, Laxmi and their sons should not have been at Podampeta, a village of mainly fishermen that was devastated a year ago by cyclone Phailin.
Their home as well as Jaganna’s motorised boat and fishing net were all washed away last year. The village lost around 50 boats. But their lives were saved as they were evacuated by the officials before Phailin made landfall.
But this time, when district officials asked the villagers to go to nearby cyclone shelters ahead of Hudhud’s landfall, no one listened. All warnings were ignored though over 26,000 people from rest of Ganjam moved to the shelters.
“We would rather die here than live in that cramped cyclone shelter and subsist on flattened rice and jaggery. Last time, there was nothing to eat for my children,” said Laxmi. “We have lived with the sea for years. It would not harm us.”
Jaganna said the same although he admitted he could not sleep Saturday night because of the roaring sea.
His neighbour Bairagi too said he did not wish to leave his home for the cyclone shelter. “I have a boat and net worth Rs 1.45 lakh here. How can I leave this place… I feel safe in my house,” he said.
District officials admitted that Podampeta was among the toughest to evacuate during last year’s cyclone. “They are very attached to their homes and have this unshakeable belief that nothing would happen to them. We had to use police force to get them leave,” said an official who was involved in last year’s evacuation.
Villagers said their anger was over the administration’s apathy towards laying an elevated road that could connect the village to the main road in the grampanchayat. The 100-metre low-lying road that they have now lies submerged as it is close to a ditch. Some anger was also because of the delay in doling out of money for buying new boats and nets as well as repairing or building new homes that were washed away by last year’s Phailin.
But officials said had Hudhud made landfall in Ganjam, they would have used police force to evacuate the villagers.