As gusty winds of over 200 kilometres an hour and a very heavy downpour marked the onslaught of Cyclone Phailin on Saturday, India’s preparedness to face one of the major disasters of the recent times seems to have evaded a major casualty.
In one of the biggest evacuation programme in Indian history, over 5.5 lakh people were evacuated from Odisha and Andhra Pradesh to safer places. The massive evacuation programme was put in place two days ahead of the Cyclone Phailin hitting the Indian coasts largely because of the advance warning issued by the Indian Meteorological Department. Learning lessons from the recent Uttarakhand floods, the Indian authorities pressed all their might to ensure the safety of people living in the coastal belt of Odisha and Andhra Pradesh.
About 4,50,000 people were evacuated from Odisha and one lakh from three districts of Andhra. An alert was also issued for those who were not ready to move out.
The government pressed into action some 18 helicopters and 12 aircrafts which were put on stand by to tackle any emergency situation. The administration, police, NDRF and the defence forces were made fully prepared to combat any challenge. The Government also identified some 600 buildings as cyclone shelters, and people were evacuated from areas near the coast, including Ganjam, Puri, Khordha and Jagatsinghapur Districts in Odisha.
The Centre put all disaster preparedness measures in place so that the impact of the natural disaster is minimized, and urged the people living along the coast to exercise prudence.
In the process, the NDRF deployed a number of teams both in Odisha and in Andhra Pradesh. In Odisha, 26 NDRF teams along with three on standby were deployed. In Andhra Pradesh, there were 15 teams of NDRF, with additional two on standby. There were an additional 30 to 25 teams, which could be deployed at short notice. Control rooms were set up within every Ministry, which would work around the clock.
The Army deployed an engineering task force, six composite relief units, four columns in Odisha and Andhra Pradesh. The Air Force, on its part, put in place frontline C-17 Globemasters, C-130 J Super Hercules and IL-76 transport planes to Odisha to carry out relief operations.
The Eastern Naval Command of the Indian Navy assumed the highest degree of readiness to render all necessary humanitarian assistance. Two Indian Naval ships, including the Landing Platform Dock INS Jalashwa were standing by to proceed with dispatch to the most affected areas of Odisha in the cyclone’s aftermath. INS Jalashwa, the second largest combatant of the Indian Navy, is ideally equipped to undertake Humanitarian Aid Distress Relief (HADR), evacuation, logistic support and hospital ship operations.
Both the ships were poised with additional divers, doctors, inflatable rubber boats, integral helicopters and relief material that include food, clothes, medicines, blankets etc, in quantities sufficient to sustain over 5000 personnel for three days. Six advance diving teams with inflatable boats, rescue material and satellite communication left for Odisha by road to operate from INS Chilka, 50 km north of Gopalapatnam, where the cyclone was expected to make landfall. These personnel were assisted by four platoons from the local naval station and doctors from INHS Nivarini in their rescue and relief efforts.
The Eastern Naval Command was monitoring the developments closely and was in constant communication with the state administration to augment rescue and relief operations.
Six helicopters were standing by at the Naval Air Station INS Dega to undertake reconnaissance, rescue, casualty evacuation and air drop of relief material to the stranded.
Additionally, the telecom department also prepared itself to ensure that communication links are stable during the expected disaster. The Indian Railways cancelled 99 trains and also short terminated and diverted a number of trains in view of the sever Cyclone Phailin to evade any casualty.