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Cyclone Phailin: At Ground Zero,waves inspire fear and prayer

Dark clouds have gathered over the sea whose roar is getting increasingly louder.

Written by Debabrata Mohanty | Gopalpur (ganjam) |
October 12, 2013 3:25:59 am

Twenty-four hours before Cyclone Phailin was due to barrel down the Gopalpur coast,assistant sub-inspector of the Marine police station,G D Behera,focused his torch on a damaged section of its boundary wall.

The police station is by the sea and the waves can be seen rising menacingly. The winds are not so strong but dark clouds have gathered over the sea whose roar is getting increasingly louder.

Weather officials said Phailin was 360 km southeast of Gopalpur and warned it would be accompanied by a storm surge of up to 3.5 m in Ganjam.

Sitting in the poorly lit police station,Behera knows that the two-storey structure will not survive the force of the waves. “A part of the boundary wall crumbled two or three years back. Once the waves hit the foundation of the building,we are as good as dead. I am not sure how long it can sustain the onslaught,” said Behera.

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“Some of my friends are telling me to leave the place before the cyclone hits. I don’t know what to do,” he said.

It is a fear shared by many living in and around Gopalpur,the likely Ground Zero of the cyclone. Authorities are treating Phailin at par with the deadly super cyclone of 1999 and people here fear a repeat of that disaster.

And the signs are ominous in Chhatrapur block’s Badararyapalli,a village of some 3,500 fisherfolk. Young fisherman Govind Krishna has just lost his trawler worth Rs 5 lakh to the choppy waves. “The waves battered it so much that it is now unrecognisable,” he said.

But some fisherfolk who have lived long enough with the turbulence of the sea liked to believe that Phailin won’t be as severe as the state government was predicting. Fisherman G Potudu is hesitating to head for the cyclone shelter nearby even though a government vehicle fitted with a loudspeaker is urging everyone to rush there.

“I will go there later in the night,” said Potudu,whose house was among the dozens battered in 1999 as the village slept. There are other men like him who want to wait for the winds to start howling before heading for safety.

In Ganjam,where five blocks are expected to take the brunt of Phailin,district collector Dr Krishan Kumar said evacuation was proving to be difficult.

“We have shifted around 30,000 people until this evening,but a lot of other people are still reluctant. They think nothing will happen. We are using all tactics to lure them to the cyclone shelter,” said Kumar.

He said he does not want a single casualty and hopes all people in a 10 km range of the sea in the five blocks are in shelters at the earliest. The state government is starting free kitchens for those in the shelters and 10 IAF aircraft are ready for rescue operations.

Plans have been made to ensure smooth passage of relief after the cyclone passes and the health department has cancelled the leave of all doctors.

As the evening wore and the roar of the waves became louder,reluctance gave way to fear and the two-storey shelter in Badararyapalli is filled with women and children.

Bujiamma,a pregnant woman,gets a chair to sit while others spread blankets on the floor and make themselves comfortable. “The doctors have told me my child is due in another 10 days. I am praying that nothing goes wrong,” Bujiamma said.

Sitting next to her is widow Tamala Nayak,who had just rushed to the shelter after guarding the rice stock in the panchayat godown. “The 1999 cyclone was bad. I only hope this one won’t be as bad,” she said.

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