On October 29, 1999, a super cyclone struck Odisha. It sent billboards flying like kites and toppled houses like ninepins, killing more than 10,000 people, most of them in the district of Jagatsinghpur. A similar super cyclone Fani lashed Odisha in May 2019 and another one packing equivalent power crashed on the coast of Bengal in May 2020. The number of deaths recorded in Fani was below 70 in Odisha while the fatalities in Amphan last year in Bengal was around 100.
Over the past several years improved technology resulting in timely warning, large-scale evacuation, planning, rescue and restoration have dramatically brought down the fatalities due to cyclones. Armed with early warning, as many as 11 lakh were evacuated before Fani struck and before Amphan 6.8 lakh people were shifted to safer places in Bengal and Odisha.
Though states in the east coast are more frequently battered by cyclone in the subcontinent, there is a lesson for every government from the best practices adopted by Odisha and Bengal administrations to tackle cyclones and timely evacuate people from the coastal areas.
However, a lot of preparation also goes into the cities though they might be quite far from the coastline. For example, the civic authorities in Kolkata evacuate people from old and fragile buildings that might cave in by the twin onslaught of wind and rain. Authorities are also trimming the branches of trees that make them prone to toppling by strong gusts of winds.
This time, as during Amphan and Tauktae, large scale shifting of people to safer places is a bigger challenge since distancing and sanitising protocols have to be maintained. The governments should try to put their heads together to come up with a manual for pre-emptive management tailormade for crisis like the present one.
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