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What’s Been Worse for India: Cyclone Hudhud or the Media Frenzy About It?

Cyclone “Hudhud“, classified as “very severe”, crashed into northeastern Andhra Pradesh and Southern Odisha on Sunday, October 12, around noon local time. The damage has been tremendous. According to the latest reports, winds approaching 200 kph (124 mph) have pummeled the coast, killing at least six people.

Visakhapatnam in Andhra Pradesh, home to two million people and a major naval base, was the hardest hit, with the storm knocking out the city's telecommunications. By Sunday evening, as the cyclone moved across inner Andhra Pradesh and other nearby areas, wind speeds slowed to 120–130 kph (roughly 77 mph).

Formed on October 8, the Tropical Cyclone Hudhud is seen moving west across the Bay of Bengal. Photo courtesy of NASA Goddard MODIS Rapid Response Team. Image via Demotix Live News. Copyright Demotix (8/10/2014)

Formed on October 8, 2014, Hudhud moves across the Bay of Bengal. NASA Goddard MODIS Rapid Response Team. Copyright Demotix.

For the past several days, the Indian mass media have been in a frenzy about the coming of Hudhud. Responding to the panic in the news, as well as memories of the 1999 Super Cyclone and the “Phailin” storm last year, communities along the Andhrapradesh and Odisha coasts have been busy covering them homes in sandbags and tying down their houses with ropes. Roughly 500,000 people have evacuated the area altogether, moving to safer places outside the storm's projected path.

All this, despite predictions that Hudhud would produce only heavy rains and some high winds in Odisha. On Twitter, many Indians have complained that sensationalism in the news is causing more damage than the storm itself. The prices of vegetables, for instance, shot up, as frightened people began hoarding produce. The same has occurred with other household goods, as well. Concerns about profiteers and artificial scarcity have appeared online.

Hudhud has also presented many Internet users in India with the opportunity to track the storm in realtime from areas far from the rain and wind.

Tracking Hudhud has appealed to many in India, but many others find the enterprise foolish, insofar as it aggravates the level of public panic.

Commentary about Hudhud has not escaped politics, of course. As the storm hit India's eastern coast, the prime minister was busy visiting Maharashtra. Several new organizations apparently stuck with the prime minister, reporting favorably about his current election campaign, instead of covering the cyclone to the east.

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