Cyclone Phailin: Did India learn the lessons of 1999?

Cyclone Phailin has made landfall in India, bringing 130 m.p.h. winds, flooding, and a major storm surge. It's one of the worst storms to hit India's east coast since 1999. Is India ready?

US Navy Joint Typhoon Warning Center.
The forecast path of cyclone Phailin a few hours before landfall Saturday, according to the US Navy Joint Typhoon Warning Center.

At least half a million people were evacuated from India's eastern coast ahead of cyclone Phailin, one of the biggest storms to hit India since 1999.

As of late Saturday evening local time in India, five people had been reported killed by the storm as it lashed the coast with winds of up to 130 miles per hour. Heavy rains will bring flooding and a storm surge of 10-20 feet has been forecast. While cyclone Phailin is forecast to lose strength as it moves inland, the size of the storm suggests that its winds and rain will be felt by some 12 million people in India during the next 24-36 hours.

Power outages have already been reported in cities near the coast.

"If it's not a record, it's really, really close," University of Miami hurricane researcher Brian McNoldy told The Associated Press. "You really don't get storms stronger than this anywhere in the world ever."

To compare it with U.S. storms, McNoldy said cyclone Phailin is nearly the size of hurricane Katrina, which killed 1,200 people in 2005 and caused devastating flooding in New Orleans, but also has the wind power of 1992's hurricane Andrew, which packed 265 kph (165 mph) winds at landfall in Miami.

But in India, cyclone Phailin is being compared with "Cyclone 5B" or the "Odisha cyclone" of 1999, named after the eastern India state (formerly known as Orissa)  that bore the brunt of the damage.  It was the strongest storm ever recorded in the Indian Ocean. In that cyclone, some 10,000 died and 275,000 homes were destroyed by high winds, flooding, and a storm surge that reached 26 feet. 

One of the lessons from 1999, say officials, is that this time more people have been evacuated from their homes along the coast.

"A lot has been learnt since 1999 and my guess is that while there could be extensive damage to property and crops, the death toll will be much less," said G. Padmanabhan, emergency analyst at the U.N. Development Programme told Reuters.

The Hindustan Times reports that "1,29,100 people from 294 villages in Srikakulam, Vizianagaram and Visakhapatnam districts have been shifted to 115 relief camps." Reuters and AP are saying at least 500,000 have been evacuated. Both are much higher than the estimated 45,000 evacuated in 1999.

This time around other preparations, such as the stocking of food and water in evacuation centers, has improved, say Indian officials.  The Associated Press reported that officials in both Odisha and Andhra Pradesh have been stockpiling emergency food supplies and setting up shelters. The Indian military has put some of its forces on alert, and has trucks, transport planes and helicopters at the ready for relief operations.

In Bhubaneshwar, the Odisha state capital, government workers and volunteers were putting together hundreds of thousands of food packages for relief camps Saturday evening.

In 1999, emergency relief efforts in the region went on for more than three months after the storm and rebuilding took more than three years.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.