The memories of Super Cyclone on the intervening night of October 29 and 30 in 1999 continue to haunt people living by the sea here even as the government claimed to have adopted precautionary measures to thwart another disaster. Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik had said on Sunday at a function, organized to mark Disaster Preparedness Day, Odisha was now setting global examples in managing catastrophes.
Explaining the measures taken by the government, the managing director of Odisha State Disaster Management Authority, P K Mohapatra, said the state would soon have an early-warning siren system for disasters, the first of its kind in the country.
“The government has initiated measures for commissioning siren towers at 122 locations by November 15. People living within 2.5 km radius of the towers can hear the siren,” he added.
The devastation, however, had permeated so deep into the psyche of the people in the two districts that they were in no mood to take chances, said Jagatsinghpur Collector Yamini Sarangi said.
“People living in the vulnerable pockets by the sea have grown strikingly vigilant. Add to that, the improved weather warning systems and periodic awareness drive by government agencies have also strengthened the disaster control mechanism,” Sarangi said.
This sort of awareness in people’s mindset is a refreshing change, she said.
The fear of another calamity and subsequent alertness was recently witnessed among the locals when the weather department made a cyclone forecast last week, said an official at the meterological department.
“As soon as the cyclone warning was sounded, the emergency office was flooded with calls from people who wanted to know if they should be shifting to a safer place. The cyclone weakened over the sea but the locals had voluntarily prepared themselves to face any eventuality,” the official said.
People had paid a heavy price for ignoring the 1999 cyclone warning.
According to official records, the calamity had claimed as many as 11,966 human lives, but families of only 6,228 cyclone victims received ex-gratia aid. The rest could not be covered under the compensation scheme as they failed to submit domicile and nativity proof.
The worst-hit was Erasama block which had accounted for over 6,000 lives.
“More than the government agencies, it is the people who need to ensure their safety. The 1999 cyclone disaster has taught us the lesson not to ignore a weather warning,” said Hiranya Rout from Ambiki village, one of the badly affected areas in the 1999 cyclone.
People here kept a close watch on weather warnings and shift to safer places voluntarily when required, Rout said.
“To ensure safety, people have also taken up mangrove regeneration programme. It would reduce the impact of flood and storm to an extent,” said 45-year-old Gagan Behari Pradhan of Suniti village in Kendrapara district.