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 dont 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 dont 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.
Bharatsri Ramadasu,a village youth,said they did not see much threat as they had escaped much damage in the 1999 cyclone.
Shopkeeper Muna Sahu wanted to keep his shop in Golabandha open for a few more hours. There is nothing to eat in the shelter. So we thought of moving there after lunch. There is no provision of food there, he explained.
But at the Marine police station at Bada Aryapalli,a village near Gopalpur,havildar Bijay Kumar Tripathy was anxious to leave as giant waves struck the shore. Tripathy was posted to the police station here after he lost his right leg in an accident.
The waves have already claimed the boundary wall. Once the water reaches the first floor,the foundation will weaken. We will go under the sea quickly. We cant wait for that moment, he said,looking at the sea from the balcony of his two-storey house.