As Cyclone Fani hits India's eastern coast, preparedness saves thousands of lives

Map plotting the track and the intensity of the Cyclone Fani that ravaged India and Bangladesh. Image via Wikipedia. Public Domain.

When the severe Cyclone Fani made landfall in the Indian state of Odisha on May 3, it took 24 lives before spreading to neighboring West Bengal and then Bangladesh. Named by Bangladesh, Fani means the hood of a snake in Bengali and other South Asian languages. It was the second most powerful cyclonic storm in 20 years after the 1999 Odisha Cyclone (also known as 99 Super Cyclone).

Odisha claimed over 10,000 lives, but many more were saved because of the local administration's resilience and planned evacuation carried out with support from thousands of volunteers. With Cyclone Fani, the local administration also prepared in advance as they expected Fani to hit 10,000 villages and 52 Urban Local Bodies (ULBs) in 14 districts in Odisha.

The New York Times reported:

To warn people of what was coming, they deployed everything they had: 2.6 million text messages, 43,000 volunteers, nearly 1,000 emergency workers, television commercials, coastal sirens, buses, police officers, and public address systems blaring the same message on a loop, in local language, in very clear terms: ‘A cyclone is coming. Get to the shelters.’

The chief minister officer of Odisha tweeted to request financial support from the Chief Minister's Relief Fund to manage post-disaster rehabilitation efforts wherein anyone in distress can alert the officials using hashtag #CycloneFaniSOS, tweet to @SRC_Odisha or call on an emergency helpline at +91-0674-2534177.

The official Twitter account of N. Chandrababu Naidu, Chief Minister Andhra Pradesh informed:

The cyclone was as strong as a Category 4 hurricane with Category 5 being the highest level recorded based on the Saffir–Simpson scale with wind speeds between 209–251 kilometers per hour at the Category 4 level. At the time of reporting on May 3, 56,000 officials were deployed in India to help evacuate more than 1 million people to designated shelters.

Fani united everyone in Odisha — the local administration worked with media houses to spread a cautionary message to masses. Vineel Krishna, CEO of Bhubaneswar Smart City, an administrator of Odisha's capital, tweeted requests to media channels to relay the government's messages:

The United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR) appreciated the Zero Causality Policy by India Meteorological Department (IMD), a federal government department that mitigates the risks of disaster management for natural calamities:

Swetapadma, who works for the Odisha government, tweeted how difficult it was to evacuate people from their homes to safe places:

The devastating effect of Fani also affected news circulation as a local news channel's teleport is down during the cyclone:

Despite early precautions taken by telecom carriers to ensure connectivity during the cyclone, almost all networks were disrupted. However, with limited access after hours of power failure, many individuals took to social media to share news with pictures and videos from the ground.

Wikipedia has requested for volunteers to translate Wikipedia articles in Asian languages to help people to get information in indigenous languages.

In Fani's catastrophic aftermath in India and Bangladesh, the damage to humanity, economy and ecology is unimaginable. While India is in the middle of its general election that will cost about 50,000 crore ($7 billion), the tragedy of Fani is already a huge hit and citizens have risen to the challenge.

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