By Purushottam Nayak
Bhubaneswar, May 4, 2019: At least eight people were killed when the extremely severe cyclonic storm Fani barrelled into the Odisha coast on April 3.
Several churches, including St. Vincent’s Pro-Cathedral Church and the residence of the archbishop of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar were severely hit when the storm, considered the worst in the past 20 years, unleashed torrential rain and winds gusting up to 175 km per hour.
The cyclone also brought rail and air transport to a halt, and swamped towns and villages, officials told reporters.
Father Prasanna Kumar Pradhan, parish priest of St. Vincent’s Pro-Cathedral, Bhubaneswar, told Matters India Fani reminded people about the super cyclone of October 29, 1999, that killed about 10,000 people, and caused extreme damage in its path of destruction.
The storm uprooted huge trees, destroyed electricity poles have been destroyed, “not even a massive steel crane was spared,” the priest added.
More than 20 Odisha districts, including Kandhamal, are severely affected by the cyclone.
“The cyclone has very badly hit the capital of Odisha Bhubaneswar. St. Vincent’s Pro-Cathedral Church and campus of Archbishop’s House of Archdiocese of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar are very badly damaged by the Cyclone Fani,” Father Pradhan explained.
Cyclone Fani, which is equivalent to category 4 hurricane, made landfall near Puri, a Hindu pilgrim city on the eastern coast.
The Odisha administration had evacuated more than 1 million people in low-lying areas to nearly 4,000 shelters, ahead of the cyclone’s landfall.
Odisha authorities said Fani caused extensive damage to thatched houses as well as several temporary structures.
“160 people have been injured and admitted to hospital for treatment. The Special Circuit House, Puri, the Office and Residence of the SP and the Collector have been badly damaged along with many other buildings,” said a note from the State Emergency Operation Centre, Bhubaneswar.
Romita Nayak, a widow and one of the survivors of the 2008 anti-Christian violence in Kandhamal, told Matters India the Cyclone Fani has destroyed her house.
Odisha Police Director General Sanjeeb Panda said eight deaths were reported from four districts. The deaths were caused mostly by fallen trees and collapsed walls.
While the system weakened to a ‘very severe cyclonic storm,’ it was expected to cause significant damage as it moves north-northeast through coastal Odisha and West Bengal toward Bangladesh. The system lay centered about 20 km west of Balasore and 200 km west-south west of Kolkata around 8.30 p.m. on April 3, with wind speeds of 110-120 km per hour, gusting at 135 km per hour.
Electricity was disrupted in several places and many trees were uprooted, leading to damaged roads and communication networks.
The roof of the hostel building at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, Bhubaneswar, was blown away.
With aviation equipment at Bhubaneswar’s Biju Patnaik International Airport significantly damaged, flight operations remained suspended on April 3, while Paradip and Gopalpur ports were also closed as a precautionary measure.
Around 220 trains on the Howrah-Chennai route have been cancelled, an East Coast Railway official said.
The trajectory of the cyclone largely conformed to the Indian Meteorological Department’s estimates that it would make landfall by April 4 noon and bring heavy rains to Orissa, West Bengal and parts of coastal Andhra Pradesh.
Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, who reviewed the situation in following the landfall of severe cyclonic storm Fani, said Puri district, particularly the holy town had suffered huge damage. “Energy infrastructure has been completely destroyed. Restoration of electricity is a challenging task,” he said.
Hundreds of engineers and technicians worked on a war-footing to restore power supply. Work is on to restore road communication, thrown into disarray with thousands of uprooted trees blocking the way in innumerable places, Patnaik said.
He said since the cyclone was still passing through Odisha, it will take time to make an assessment of the damage.
National Disaster Response Force official Randeep Rana said not many casualties were reported so far as precautionary measures were in place.
The chief minister said nearly 1.2 million people were evacuated and shifted to safer locations within 24 hours ahead of the cyclone from about 10,000 villages and 52 urban agglomerations in probably the largest such exercise at the time of a natural calamity in the country.