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Facing and Surviving Cyclones in Indian Subcontinent

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Cyclone Nisarga
 
Cyclones are common occurrences in India. In fact, the Indian subcontinent is one of the worst affected regions in the world with tropical cyclones. The subcontinent with a long coastline of 8041 kilometres is exposed to nearly 10 per cent of the world’s tropical cyclones. Of these, the majority of them have their initial genesis over the Bay of Bengal and strike the East coast of India. On average, five to six tropical cyclones form every year, of which two or three could be severe. More cyclones occur in the Bay of Bengal than the Arabian Sea and the ratio is approximately 4:1. Cyclones occur frequently on both coasts. Recently Cyclone Yaas has formed in the Bay of Bengal and is expected to hit the coast at Odisha by Wednesday.
Cyclones are characterized by their devastating potential to damage structures, viz. houses; lifeline infrastructure-power and communication towers; hospitals; food storage facilities; roads, bridges and culverts; crops etc. Most fatalities come from storm surges and torrential rain flooding the lowland areas of coastal territories.

Facing a Cyclone

Cyclones are an inevitable natural hazard that every region with a coastline has to suffer. However, preventing it from being a disaster is up to us. In this context, let us look at some guidelines to ensure safety and prevent damage during the cyclone.

Before the beginning of a Cyclone Season

1. Check the house; secure loose tiles and carry out repairs of doors and windows
2. Remove dead branches or dying trees close to the house; anchor removable objects such as lumber piles, loose tin sheets, loose bricks, garbage cans, sign-boards etc. which can fly in strong winds
3. Keep some wooden boards ready so that glass windows can be boarded if needed
4. Keep a hurricane lantern filled with kerosene, battery operated torches and enough dry cells
5. Demolish condemned buildings
6. Keep some extra batteries for transistors
7. Keep some dry non-perishable food always ready for use in emergency

Before the cyclone hits

1. Ensure the availability of sufficient food supplies and drinking water in the house
2. Identify the strongest part of the house and make sure all the family members are aware of it.
3. Make sure that the neighbours are aware of these guidelines and are taking necessary steps to prepare themselves for the upcoming cyclone.
4. Tune in to the news to keep track of the updates regarding the cyclone

After the cyclone hits

1. Disconnect all the electronic appliances as soon as the cyclone hits to avoid cases of short circuit.
2. Remove all the hanging materials from the balconies or windows such as flower pots, hanging pots, cardboard boxes and so on.
3. Park the two-wheelers on the main stand to prevent them from falling over other vehicles.
4. Keep the first aid kits handy in case of small cuts and bruises. Keep old towels and thick rugs handy to soak the water if it happens to seep in from gaps.
5. Stay in the strongest part of the house.
6. Wear strong shoes, lock the doors and store important documents in a plastic cover.
7. If the building starts to break, instead of running out, protect yourself with thick rugs and mattresses.
8. Make sure that the outer units of split ACs, as well as the satellite dish, are firmly screwed in place.
9. If the wind stops, do not step out. Because it may start again in a different direction. Wait for official ‘all clear’ from the authorities.
10. DO NOT venture out even when the winds appear to calm down. The ‘eye’ of the cyclone might be passing. Winds might intensify and gush again and cause damage. Be safe inside till it is officially announced that the cyclone has passed.

When Evacuation is instructed

– Pack essentials for yourself and your family to last a few days. These should include medicines, special food for babies and children or elders.
– Head for the proper shelter or evacuation points indicated for your area.
– Do not worry about your property
– At the shelter follow instructions of the person in charge.
– Remain in the shelter until you are informed to leave.

After the cyclone is gone

– Remain in the shelter until informed that you can return to your home.
– Get inoculated against diseases immediately.
– Strictly avoid any loose and dangling wires from lamp posts.
– If you have to drive, do drive carefully.
– Clear debris from your premises immediately.
– Report the correct losses to appropriate authorities.

When your area is under cyclone warning get away from low-lying beaches or other low-lying areas close to the coast

– Leave early before your way to high ground or shelter gets flooded
– Do not delay and run the risk of being marooned
– If your house is securely built on high ground take shelter in the safe part of the house. However, if asked to evacuate do not hesitate to leave the place.
– Board up glass windows or put storm shutters in place.
– Provide strong suitable support for outside doors.
– If you do not have wooden boards handy, paste paper strips on glasses to prevent splinters. However, this may not avoid breaking windows.
– Get extra food, which can be eaten without cooking. Store extra drinking water in suitably covered vessels.
– If you have to evacuate the house move your valuable articles to upper floors to minimize flood damage.
– Ensure that your hurricane lantern, torches or other emergency lights are in working condition and keep them handy.
– Small and loose things, which can fly in strong winds, should be stored safely in a room.
– Be sure that a window and door can be opened only on the side opposite to the one facing the wind.
– Make provision for children and adults requiring special diet.
– If the centre of the cyclone is passing directly over your house there will be a lull in the wind and rain lasting for half an hour or so. During this time do not go out; because immediately after that, very strong winds will blow from the opposite direction.
– Switch off the electrical mains in your house.
– Remain calm.

Preparedness for future in Cyclone Prone Areas

Construction of Cyclone Engineered Structures

Community buildings made of concrete and steel should be erected in every cyclone-prone area, that can be used a shelter during cyclones. These buildings should be able to house a large number of people for several days.

Building Green Belts

Coastal areas prone to tropical cyclone should be strictly marked as ‘no-go zones’ for economic development activities. These areas should be converted into green belts that can provide a riparian buffer for the cyclones and prevent them from damaging the area beyond the green zone. Mangrove forests reduce the velocity of water which in turn also reduces the damage. Therefore efforts should be made to conserve mangrove forests and extend them further in the coastal zones.

Lessons from recent cyclones in India

Tauktae

Cyclone Tauktae that formed in the Arabian sea in May 2021, caused massive destruction on the western coast of India. The cyclone led to the death of more than 150 people in the states on the west coastline of peninsular India. The highest number of deaths happened on the barge P305 which sank during Cyclone Tauktae.
According to the Chief Engineer Rahman Shaikh of the barge P305, everyone onboard the barge could have been saved had many of the life rafts not had punctures. He also spoke about the ignorance of the captain towards the warnings of the cyclone. Shaikh, one of the persons rescued from the drowning barge said, “We received the cyclone warning a week before it hit. Many other vessels in the vicinity left. I told the Captain, Balwinder Singh, that we must also leave for the harbour. But he told me that winds were not expected to be over 40 kmph and the cyclone would cross Mumbai in one or two hours. But in reality, the wind speed was more than 100 kmph. Five of our anchors broke. They couldn’t withstand the cyclone.”
According to the Chief engineer of the barge, the loss of life could have been avoided if the inspection was conducted beforehand with regards to the safety measures.

Amphan

Cyclone Amphan formed in the Bay of Bengal in May 2020, caused devastation in West Bengal and parts of Odisha. The cyclone impacted over 45 lakh people in Odisha and left lakhs of people homeless in West Bengal. The loss of life in West Bengal because of the cyclone stood at over 86.
The chief of the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF), SN Pradhan spoke of the lessons that we need to learn from Cyclone Amphan. Pradhan has said that the state governments need to look at disaster governance as a priority matter. Pradhan said the weather event taught us a timely lesson on the need to upgrade rural infrastructure.
Pradhan underlined that with climate change happening, extreme weather events will become more frequent and the governments could minimise damage and save lives by building disaster-resilient infrastructure, especially in the coastal zones.
Pradhan told news agency PTI in an interview that the Amphan cyclone made it clear that there was no further scope to take chances and urged that government housing schemes like the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana should incorporate designs that are made keeping natural disasters like cyclones in mind.
He further stressed the need to have underground electrification, especially in rural and coastal areas, so that power supply could be restored quickly in the event of a disruption due to weather-related events.

Fani

The state of Odisha in India is the most cyclone-prone in the country. In 2019, An extremely severe cyclone, Fani hit the state. Fani was a rare summer cyclone and the first one to hit in 43 years. It made its landfall on the religious town of Puri and Khurda district and travelled through Bhubaneswar and Cuttack, wreaking havoc with extensive damage to the life and property of more than 1.65 crore people in 12 districts. As Odisha had already set a global benchmark in handling disasters by leveraging technology, strengthening institutional capacities and building resilience measures, it was fully prepared to face this calamity of national magnitude. Let us understand how.
1. Resilient Infrastructure: The state of Odisha has built over 800 multipurpose cyclone and flood shelters since the 1999 cyclone which claimed about 15,000 lives. The Odisha State Disaster Mitigation Authority (OSDMA), a constituent of the state government, designed the structures in association with the Institute of Information Technology (IIT) Kharagpur. The project was implemented by the state and the buildings are designed to withstand wind speed of up to 300 kmph and moderate earthquakes. Plinths are above the high flood line (HFL) and the stilted floor construction ensures the buildings are unaffected in a storm surge up to the first-floor level.
2. Autonomous Disaster Management Authority: The Odisha Disaster Management Authority (ODMA) was set up as an autonomous body to combat emergency situations during disasters.
3. Technology: The Odisha government made effective utilisation of technology to contain the damage caused by the cyclone. It sent out 1.8 crore SMS messages by Location Based Alert System (LBAS) and Group Based Alert System (GBAS) to warn people. Various District Collectors also deployed police forces and volunteers to use traditional methods (like microphones) to announce the incoming cyclone. Additionally, the district administrators used mapping of houses and populations, village by village, to reach out to people and ensure evacuation to safe locations.
4. Preparedness: Upon receiving the early notice from cyclone warning services, both national and state machinery geared up to assess the level of preparedness for an effective response after landfall. The government of Odisha evacuated close to 1.55 million people to 9,177 shelters, including the 879 multi-purpose cyclone/flood shelters and other safe shelters like schools and public buildings. About 25,000 tourists were evacuated from vulnerable areas by mobilizing 23 special trains and 18 buses. All fishing activities were suspended two days prior to landfall.
The government organized massive awareness campaigns to inform people about the basic cyclone dos and don’ts. Twenty Odisha Disaster Rapid Action Force (ODRAF) units, 335 Fire Service units and 25 units of the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) were deployed in the coastal districts for search and rescue operations. Volunteers were mobilized to support the local administration and the community in evacuation, distribution of relief and shelter management. Instructions were issued to all the line departments to make adequate arrangements to provide immediate life-saving assistance to those in need after landfall.