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Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Weakened cyclone spares Odisha, but sea waters may take heavy toll

While wind speeds up to 140 kmph blew away thatched roofs of some houses, as well as snapped overhead wires, and uprooted trees and electric poles in parts, no major damage was reported.

Written by Aishwarya Mohanty | Balasore, Bhadrak |
Updated: May 28, 2021 7:03:38 am
At Chudamandi village in Bhadrak district. Fields here are flooded with seawater. (Express photo by Aishwarya Mohanty)

A sense of calm prevailed in coastal villages of Odisha on Thursday, hours after Cyclone Yaas hit the coast, eventually weakening from an extremely severe storm to a deep depression and moving towards Jharkhand.

While wind speeds up to 140 kmph blew away thatched roofs of some houses, as well as snapped overhead wires, and uprooted trees and electric poles in parts, no major damage was reported. A lower wind speed than predicted, and hastened movement of the storm towards the northwest and its eventual weakening, meant the administration was able to resume restoration work on Wednesday evening.

At Talapada village in Balasore district’s Bahanga block, the site of the cyclone’s landfall on Wednesday morning, most residents were still to return home from shelters. The few who had were taking stock of the damage, including to walls and roofs.

Indian Coast Guard personnel carry out rescue and relief work following Cyclone Yaas, in Odisha on Wednesday. (PTI)

But as Sudarshan Malik, 56, pointed out, the full cost of the huge tidal waves will only be known in time. Scooping out dead fish from his pond, he said, “I rear freshwater fish like Magura, Kou… they cannot survive in saline water. All of us are facing the same situation. Sea water has entered our farms and ponds.”

For most families here, fishing and farming are the major sources of income.

The tidal waves predicted by the IMD for the cyclone were 2-4 metres high. The waves reached their peak height in Bhadrak and Balasore, according to officials. “The waves were high also because of the full moon, timing of which coincided with the landfall… They were as high as 7 metres, or 20 feet,” said H R Biswas, Director of the Regional Meteorological Department, Bhubaneswar.

Bahanarani Das said they had not seen such high waves since the 1999 cyclone. “Rain and wind are common, but sea water flooding isn’t,” said Das, worried for her one-acre land. “Saline water destroys the land, it becomes difficult to cultivate anything,” she added.

Seawater enters through boundaries of a house in Chandipur area of Balasore on Wednesday. (PTI)

In nearby villages, farmers rearing prawns are also worried. “In no time at all water from the sea stormed into the village and flooded our homes and farms. With the retreating waves, prawns in our gherries (ponds) also got washed away. I lost half my prawns,” Sudar Mahalik said.

From his pond to the sea, one can see a row of farms inundated with sea water.

Environmentalists warn that erosion by sea water will be a recurrent phenomenon in the area if forests and mangroves are not given importance over commercial developments around coasts.

“After the cyclone in 1971, an expert committee had recommended plantation of mangroves to prohibit coastal erosion. But nothing has been done in that direction so far. Coastal forests are needed to avoid erosion and saline water entering farms and villages,” noted environmentalist Prafulla Samantara said, seeking restrictions on developmental projects and construction along coasts like highway and ports.

The government said nearly six lakh people had been evacuated to shelters ahead of the cyclone, with four casualties in all reported from storm-related incidents.

Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik conducted an aerial survey of the affected districts on Thursday afternoon.

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