With wind storms gusting up to 175 kmph and incessant rains bringing down trees, power and communications lines and thatched houses, cyclone Fani tore through the eastern coast in Odisha Friday leaving at least eight people dead and swamping towns and villages.
Fani, classified as an extremely severe cyclonic storm, made landfall around 8 am in Puri, according to the India Meteorological Department (IMD) even as the state government evacuated, over the last two days, nearly 12 lakh people from about 10,000 villages and 52 urban agglomerations. Fani, however, weakened into ‘very severe’ cyclonic storm in a few hours but left a trail of devastation across coastal Odisha, with the seaside pilgrim town of Puri being the worst hit.
Videos on social media showed cars and buses flipping over, trees being ripped out, a police booth being dragged some on a highway by furious winds and even a massive construction collapsing on a row of empty buildings in the storm.
Special Relief Commissioner B P Sethi said three people were reported dead in different incidents in Puri, Nayagarh and Kendrapara districts. While a teenage boy was killed when a tree collapsed on him in Puri, flying debris from a concrete structure left a woman dead in Nayagarh. An elderly woman died of heart failure at a relief shelter in Kendrapara district.
The worst of Fani, among the biggest cyclones to hit in recent years, is probably over, and casualties have been kept to a minimum. This shows the capability — good warning and response systems — India has managed to build in dealing with disasters since the 2004 tsunami.
Dr Mrutyunjaya Mohapatra, IMD Additional DG, said, “Fani’s landfall process began at around 8 am. Before that, Puri saw wind speeds of around 142 kmph, with gusts up to 174 kmph”. Officials said they were hopeful of minimising casualties as “Fani behaved so far exactly as predicted” and that Puri and Jagatsinghpur districts may be most affected.
Waves can rise up to 1.5 metres, Met sources said, adding that heavy rainfall is likely to follow the cyclone, with isolated places getting extremely heavy rainfall. According to Mohapatra, “as the cyclone moves completely into land, it will be cut off from its energy source- the sea”. Predicting that wind speeds and rain will subside by Saturday, he said that the cyclone winds could drop to around 110 kmph by the time it reaches north Odisha.
According to the IMD, the eye of the storm moved completely into land by 10 am. By 11.30, the storm lay centred 10 km east of Bhubaneswar and 30 km south of Cuttack. The IMD has predicted that the storm is likely to emerge in Gangetic West Bengal as a severe cyclonic storm with a windspeed of 90-100 kmph by early May 4. Fani is then likely to move further north and north-eastwards and arrive in Bangladesh by May 4 evening.
Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, who reviewed the situation, said Puri district suffered huge damage. “Energy infrastructure has been completely destroyed. Restoration of electricity is a challenging task,” he said adding that work is on to restore road communication “thrown into disarray with thousands of uprooted trees blocking the way in innumerable places”.
According to a Union Home Ministry report, the districts of Cuttack, Khordha, Bhubaneswar and Puri are severely affected and the “Fani has caused huge damages in these districts”. The report says the cyclone has led to the uprooting of a large number of trees disrupting roads and traffic, there is extensive damage to houses-both concrete and otherwise, power supply and phone communication have snapped and summer crops apart from orchards and plantations are devastated.
Those evacuated have been accommodated in over 4,000 shelters, including 880 specially designed cyclone centres. After making landfall, the system is expected to pass through Khurda, Cuttack, Jajpur, Bhadrak and Balasore before it would enter West Bengal, Sethi said, adding that Bhubaneswar was likely to be hit by high-velocity wind of around 140 kmph.
Flight operations at Bhubaneswar airport remained suspended on Friday, while Paradip and Gopalpur ports were also closed as a precautionary measure. Around 220 trains on Howrah-Chennai route have been cancelled keeping in view passengers’ safety, an East Coast Railway (ECoR) official said.
Neighbouring West Bengal, too, braced for the cyclone, where Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee cancelled all her election rallies planned over the next 48 hours to monitor 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,” said a Met department official.
A red alert has been issued in coastal areas and fishermen have been asked not to venture into the sea. Several districts including East and West Midnapore, North and South 24 Parganas besides, Howrah, Hooghly, Jhargram, Kolkata and the Sundarbans are likely to be hit by the storm which will then move towards Bangladesh and taper off.
Airports in Bhubaneswar and Kolkata have been closed. No flights will depart or arrive at Kolkata airport from 3 pm Friday to 8 am Saturday, aviation regulator DGCA said in New Delhi. More than 220 trains on the Kolkata-Chennai route have been cancelled until Saturday.
Very heavy rainfall has been predicted for Gangetic Bengal, sub-Himalayan Bengal and Sikkim on May 4. The IMD has warned that “heavy to very heavy falls very likely over Arunachal Pradesh and Assam and Meghalaya on May 4 and 5 with isolated extremely heavy falls over Assam and Meghalaya on May 4.”