Taming of the shrew
Country’s weathermen deserve a pat for the timely forecast of the severe Phailin hurricane that could save the lives of thousands of people. The official weather forecaster, India Meteorological Department (IMD) took the wise decision for exchange of information and cooperation with the agencies in different countries.
In matters of disaster management and mitigation, cooperation with different international agencies is of absolute necessity. In a forecast the Hawaii-based forecasting outpost of the US Navy, Joint Typhoon Warning Center (JTWC) has put the strength of the approaching Cyclone Phailin at the coasts of Odisha and Andhra Pradesh as that of a Category 5 Hurricane - the Indian Ocean equivalent is a super cyclonic storm. London-based storm tracking service, Tropical Storm Risk had categorised Phailin as a Category 4 storm, one notch below the most powerful Category 5 storm. Japan Meteorological Department was also monitoring the development of Phailin.
A hurricane is classified as Category 5 when it gains a speed of over 120 knots/220 kmph. The JTWC had predicted Phailin might clock 140 knots in wind speed with gusts reaching 170 knots. However, the IMD had term Phailin as Very Severe Cyclonic Storm slated to hit coasts of north Andhra Pradesh and southern Odisha at a speed of 175 to 185 kmph.
The forecast helped the Indian Armed Forces and the state governments of Odisha and Andhra Pradesh to conduct world’s largest evacuation involving over 800,000 people within 48 hours. The Andhra Pradesh government and the Seemandhra region which was in the midst of agitation against the proposed bifurcation of the state woke up to meet the challenges of nature’s fury.
It was a tragedy that that India felt the burnt of nature’s fury at the beginning of the four-month monsoon season in June that caused the disaster at the pilgrim town Kedarnath leading to a death toll in thousands and massive loss of property. Though IMD predicted a heavy rainfall, adequate precautions could not be taken in time as pilgrimage was in progress. However timely forecast and adequate precautions taken this time helped to prevent a heavy loss of lives when Phailin approached the coast. It is a coincidence that both the incidents took place on festive occasions – Chatur Dham Yatra when disaster struck Kedarnath and Durga Puja and Dussera when Phailin approached the coast.
The cyclonic system was first noted as a tropical depression on October 4, 2013 within the Gulf of Thailand, to the west of Phnom Penh in Cambodia. Over the next few days, the system moved westwards within an area of low to moderate vertical wind shear, before as it passed over the Malay Peninsula, it moved out of the Western Pacific Basin on October 6. The system emerged into the Andaman Sea during the next day and moved west-northwest into an improving environment for further development. The storm was named Phailin – a Thai word meaning sapphire on October 9.
Phailin affected Thailand, Myanmar, Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Odisha, Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal in India. The cyclonic storm hit the Andhra Pradesh-Odisha coast in the evening of Saturday with a wind speed of more than 200 kmph. There are variances in forecasts about the time of approach, all forecast mentioned the same date. The IMD had predicted that it would move northwestwards and cross north Andhra Pradesh and Odisha coast between Kalingapatnam and Paradip.
The Indian defence minister AK Antony on Friday had directed the three Services – Army, Air Force and the Navy – to be in full readiness to provide all support in view of the impending cyclone, Phailin, forecast to hit the Odisha and Andhra Pradesh coast. Ministry of defence had received requests from the Odisha and Andhra Pradesh governments for rescue and relief operations including the air support in the aftermath of the approaching Cyclone.
The IAF's latest strategic transport aircraft, the C-17 Globe Master undertook its first sortie towards transporting of relief materials including specialist army vehicles and ambulance from bases in central India to Bhubaneswar, ahead of the arrival of cyclone Phailin, due to strike land later this evening.
The C-17 airlifted 60 troops and rescue and medical material including heavy vehicles and ambulance from Allahabad before landing at Bhubaneswar. Additionally, the IAF transported NDRF personnel and other heavy relief equipment by IL-76s and AN-32 from various bases across the country. The IAF also kept in readiness two C-130J Super Hercules towards rescue and relief efforts. The Mi-17 V5 helicopters in stand by in Barrackpore, near Kolkata was ready to fly into Odisha for rescue and relief activities, as and when required.
Two IAF IL-76 were despatched with National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) teams and equipment to Bhubneswar. Other IAF assets were on stand-by at various bases including- Raipur, Nagpur, Jagdalpur, Barrackpore, Ranchi and Gwalior. IAF had committed two C130J Super Hercules aircraft, 18 helicopters, including Mi -17V5 and two AN-32s to the effort. IAF fully geared up to assist the state administration and has tasked its Eastern Air Command to coordinate the entire relief operation with a Task Force being positioned at Barrackpore.
Vishakhapatnam based Eastern Naval Command kept multiple Indian Navy diving teams with inflatable rafts in standby mode at important locations which could be put into operations at short notices. Besides these, Navy put some Chetak and UH-3H helicopters in standby for launching rescue and relief operations, if necessary. Disaster relief ships, as required, were also being kept by the Navy in readiness. Army moved its Command and control element to Bubaneswar under GOC Madhya Bharat (MB) Area. One Engineer column from Bagdogra and one Medical column from Gopalpur started moving to Bhubneshwar. Infantry columns are also stand by at Barrackpore.
The Coast Guard Headquarters sensitised State Governments of Andhra Pradesh, Odisha and West Bengal requesting them to issue appropriate advisory to fishermen, shipping and local community.
Coast Guard units in these three States were on high alert so that they can respond to any search and rescue situation at sea and in coastal areas. Coast Guard is also in constant communication with other forces and civil administration for meeting any eventuality during/post cyclone. All Coast Guard Ships and Aircraft on Eastern seaboard were kept on standby to render immediate assistance to state administration. IPA