Amphan Has Revived Memories of Odisha’s Horrific Super Cyclone

Odisha’s Super Cyclone in 1999 left over 10,000 dead and saw winds of 260 km/hour.

Updated11 Jun 2020, 05:29 AM IST
Opinion
3 min read

It was a peculiar feeling this time around when the footsteps of cyclone ‘Amphan’ were heard close to Odisha.

As initial forecasts about the nature of the storm started coming in, memories of 29 October 1999 came flooding back. Odisha’s super cyclone is etched vividly in the minds of everyone who has experienced it.

Despite varying reports about the path and ferocity of the charging cyclonic storm, a couple of days ago, it became clear that the wrath of the cyclone would impact mainly four districts of coastal Odisha – Balasore, Bhadrak, Jagatsinghpur and Kendrapara.

While predictions about the devastating force of Amphan were true, Odisha, by and large, was spared the brunt of its wrath.

Odisha has learned from several oceanic invasions in the past and the administrative apparatus as usual had kept its gears ready much in advance. Lessons from recent cyclonic furies like Phailin, Hud-Hud and Foni helped to avert losses to a great extent.

Recalling The Horror Of 1999

To recall the Super Cyclone of 1999, one of the biggest catastrophes to hit the state in recent memory, still sends a chill down my spine.

It was a Friday afternoon.

Suddenly, the sky turned gloomy, creating a mirage of evening at noon. Within minutes, all hell broke loose, followed by a stormy gale that transformed into a super cyclone .

The blitzkrieg lasted around 36 hours with the wind velocity touching over 260 kmph and gusts of 280 or more kmph.

Then, it was all over.

On the tranquil bosom of Erasama town and adjoining areas in Jagatsinghpur district, a graveyard was created and an unending stretch appeared like a floating carpet of corpses.

The tides from the sea rose as high up as 25 to 30 metres, propelled by a cataclysmic cyclone that was ruthless. Eventually, it claimed over 10,000 human lives and lakhs of livestock. There was a sort of sobbing epidemic everywhere, subsequently, and many were left benumbed by the trauma.

Coastal towns like Erasama, Padampur, Naghori, Kujang and many other hamlets were reduced to spongy blankets of human and animal corpses.

But one cannot forget the horror in a hamlet called Dahibara, where every trace of life was wiped out except the bodies of two infants lying on their faces. The horrific footprints of the apocalyptic rage of nature that spared not a single house.

Thirty six hours of relentless fury of nature had left the survivors so shaken that for three days after the cyclone, they could not recover from the terror of abandonment and transience.

Lakhs had seen death up close from their shattered shelters and from the tree branches where, before their very eyes, they witnessed family members slowly collapsing in the incessant rain and falling down like ripe fruits on the ground.

When this reporter reached Paradeep, the port town looked almost tonsured with thousands of trees being uprooted. However, the most disturbing sight was at the town’s exhibition ground where over a hundred bodies were lined up for mass cremation.

Suddenly, we noticed an old man in his 80s, walking at the site, critically examining each body. When asked what was he searching for, his reply was, “My son has been missing for last three days.”

His fatigued eyes looked like they were burning in a stove of despair.

My abiding memory of the 1999 super cyclone is of an all pervasive air of pensive sadness coupled with a tranquility that was extremely disturbing. The cluster of villages pulverized by the Super Cyclone remained rather melancholic for over a fortnight.

Images from today have been a throwback to the horror of 21 years ago.

(Dinendra Narayan Singh is a Bhubaneswar-based senior journalist and political analyst. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them. This is an opinion piece, and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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Published: 21 May 2020, 02:52 PM IST
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