The Sri Jagannath Temple replaced Wednesday the 15-feet-long Patitapabana Bana, or holy flag atop the temple with a four-feet-long variant. For Puri in Odisha, it was among the first signs of the town bracing for Cyclone Fani, which is expected to make landfall Friday.
And with Fani, classified as an Extremely Severe Cyclonic Storm with wind speeds estimated at 175-185 kmph and tides that could surge up to 1.5 metres, the state government has ordered defence and rescue forces on high alert and the shutting down of all educational institutions from Thursday. It has also posted top bureaucrats to oversee relief and rehabilitation in 11 coastal districts from Ganjam in the south to Balasore in the north.
EXPLAINED | Simply put: Why Fani is an unusual storm
According to the latest bulletin from the State Relief Commissioner: “FANI in Bay of Bengal lay centred at 0530 hrs IST of 1st May 2019 about 680 km south-southwest of Puri and 430 km south-southeast of Vishakhapatnam.”
And at ground zero, there is concern but many in Puri say they have seen and survived many similar storms. “The longer flag was replaced by the state government’s temple administration body lest it blows away”, said the Sri Jagannath temple servitor Somnath Khuntia. “I am confident the temple will be untouched.”
Local fishermen running a Dolphin Tourism Centre sat anxiously in Puri’s Satpada village, which according to the state government, will be the point where Fani makes landfall in Odisha. They are worried more about business than safety.
Holding a letter from the state Tourism Department sternly prohibiting boat rides until further notice, a member of the dolphin tourism business Susanta Nayak said, “We had to turn away two groups today after a lot of argument. 1,100 local families divide the profits from this business every evening. It’s an important supplement to our income. But now, we can neither fish nor take tourists out to the waters (of Chilika Lake)”.
Continuing its preventative and rehabilitation plans, the state government has moved to secure everything, from people to transport and even Electronic Voting Machines. The Election Commission relaxed provisions of the Model Code of Conduct in 11 coastal districts to facilitate relief and rescue operations.
The East Coast Railways (EcoR), too, has drawn up a comprehensive plan to cancel 74 trains passing through Odisha. “The cancellation begins from trains starting from Kolkata on the afternoon of May 2, with Coromandel and East Coast Express”, said Chief Public Relations Officer of ECoR J P Mishra. He said that trains expected to arrive at Bhubaneswar or Puri after 9:30 PM on May 2 were also cancelled.
At a press conference, Odisha Chief Electoral Officer Surendra Kumar said every precaution was being taken to secure EVMs in strong rooms from wind or water. “Local executive engineers in each district that may be affected will water proof the strong rooms,” he said.
Sources in the government say the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) will deploy 28 teams by Thursday afternoon and the state government will deploy 22 Odisha Disaster Rapid Action Force (ODRAF) teams along with 335 fire service units.
Senior scientist with the Meteorological Department Dr Mrutyunjaya Mohapatra and researcher Dr Biswanath Dash affiliated with BITS Pilani have both studied cyclones in Odisha. They say that a cyclone of Fani’s severity occurring in May is “unusual but not rare”.
Dash said that there is a key difference between Fani and Titli, the storm that hit Odisha last year and killed over 75 people. “Titli rapidly intensified and did not hit with as much force, Fani will be slower to develop and will be stronger”, he said.
According to them, Fani most resembles Cyclone Hudhud that hit Andhra Pradesh as well as parts of Odisha in 2014. “Like Hudhud, Fani has had a long time to develop and gain strength from its energy source, the sea. Fani developed near the equator at 2.5 degrees North latitude and is expected to travel up to 19.5 degree North latitude (Puri),” said Mohapatra, adding that the storm, therefore, has ample time to gain in strength. Dash said that Fani is being classified in a unique category – Extremely Severe Cyclonic Storm.
According to the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), there is a category called Severe Cyclonic Storm (88-117 kmph) and a Super Cyclone (over 221 kmph). “Fani at 175-185 kmph has been placed somewhere in between”, said Dash.