Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Phailin - The Emerald

I got a personal feel of ‘Phailin’, the 'very severe cyclonic storm' that ravaged coastal Odisha on the 12th October, 2013. It originated from a depression on the coast of Thailand and moved towards India. 

I live in the State Capital Bhubaneswar, which though touched by Phailin, was not seriously affected. The worst hit place was Gopalpur and the rest of Ganjam District. The area adjacent to Paradip Port also was severely affected. Gopalpur was lashed by wind with a speed of 214 kmph. Damages were slightly less at Puri, which faced a slightly higher wind-velocity of 223 kmph. Heavy rains lashed Odisha from the 11th. Rains and strong winds hit also Chhatisgarh, Jharkhand, West Bengal and Bihar. 

                             The wind in action

The Indian Meteorological Department in Bhubaneswar had forecast a wind speed of 230 kmph and wave height of 12 feet near the coast. The memory of the ‘Super Cyclone’ which had devastated Odisha on the 29th October, 1999 is still fresh. This time, the State Government was fully prepared and had taken the help of the Army, Navy and Air Force in its preparedness. The National Disaster Response Force also was deployed.The scheduled Government Holidays for Dussera were cancelled. Doctors on leave were called back. Before the cyclone, over 9.90 lakh people were evacuated from areas within 5 km from the coast. Some had to be shifted forcibly as people refused to leave their hearth and home. Hence the damages were less than anticipated. The government’s response to the disaster received commendation from the UN Special Representative for Natural Disasters. At Bhubaneswar, power and water supply, telephone and internet services were disrupted for 3 days. As a safety-measure, power supply was disconnected whenever the wind-velocity crossed 60 kmph. 

About 26 lakh trees were uprooted in the State and about 2000 live stock were killed. The State Govt. has put the total loss at Rs.15,000 Crore.

Phailin and the flood that followed ravaged 18 of the 30 Districts of Odisha. Forty-four persons were reported as killed. The cyclone left a trail of destruction damaging and ravaging more than 4 lakh houses.

       Fast asleep on what remains of her house

Six thousand school-buildings and standing crops on ove 6 lakh acres of farm-land were damaged. 

 Two young teak wood trees planted by me 4 years ago in my garden had grown to a height of 25 feet. These were uprooted. After about 15 years, these trees would have fetched about Rs. 2 lakh or more each.

Named ‘Phailin’

Neelam, Nargis, Nilopher, Sandy, Bijli, Mala, Rashmi, Helen, Priya – these appear to be names of attractive film-heroines, but they indeed are symbols of destruction and disasters. These are the names of cyclones.  

A tropical cyclone feeds on heat released by the condensation of moist air. The latent heat gets converted into kinetic energy and feeds the strong winds emerging out of it. One beneficial feature of tropical cyclones is that they carry heat and energy away from tropics to temperate zones and thus help in global atmospheric circulation.  A ‘tropical storm’ brings in wind-speeds of 63 kmph. When the speed exceeds 118 kmph, it is called hurricane.

Tropical cyclones are named to facilitate the communication between the forecasters and the public. Naming of cyclones started in the 20th Century. In the beginning, numbers or technical codes were used. An Australian started naming cyclones after politicians he disliked. During World War II, American meteorologists named cyclones after their wives and girlfriends. Then both female and male names were used. Now, cyclones are given names selected by Member-Nations of the World Meteorological Organisation. These names include those of men, women, flowers etc. In 2004, a formula was devised for naming cyclones in the Indian Oceanic Zone. The countries in this Zone are: Bangladesh, India, Maldives, Myanmar, Oman, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Thailand. Each country submits a list of names selected by it. The earlier cyclones were named ‘Neelam’ (by Pakistan) and ‘Mahasen’ (by Sri Lanka). 

The recent cyclone was named ‘Phailin’ (by Thailand). ‘Phailin’ means 'emerald'. The list of names submitted by India includes Agni, Akash, Bijli, Jal, Lahar, Megh, Sagar and Vayu. Among the attractive ones in the Pakistani names are: Titli, Bulbul and Nilophar.

Planting lessons

Phailin has taught a lesson to city-planners about planting avenue trees. More than 20000 trees were uprooted in Bhubaneswar only, many of which were on roadsides. Fallen trees blocked roads. Slow-growing but deep-rooted and sturdy trees like mango, jamun, neem and banyan trees stood their ground against the gale but fast-growing trees like gulmohar, kadamba, eucalyptus, champa and teak succumbed to the strong wind.

TAIL PIECE: Two faces

Phailin united the staff and the prisoners in Chhatrapur (Ganjam) Jail. A 20-metre wall of the jail collapsed by the onslaught of heavy rain and gale; the prisoners stayed put and did not escape, providing relief to the worried jail staff.

Some criminals took advantage of the cyclone and the consequent power-cut and darkness, to burgle a jewelry shop in Bhubaneswar and took away gold and silver jewelry worth Rs 3 lakh.