Preparation limits toll of cyclone
DHAKA, Bangladesh — A mammoth preparation exercise that included the evacuation of more than 1 million people appears to have spared India a devastating death toll from one of the biggest storms in decades, though the full extent of the damage was yet to be known, officials said Saturday.
Cyclone Fani packed winds of 155 miles per hour when it made landfall in eastern Odisha state Friday, equivalent in strength to a Category 4 hurricane, said Mohammad Heidarzadei, an expert at Brunel University of London.
As of late Saturday, India’s National Disaster Response Force director S.N. Pradhan said three people had been killed, though the storm smashed thatched-roof huts, uprooted trees and power lines, ripped the roof off a medical college and sprayed the emptied coastline with debris.
Officials cautioned that the death toll could rise as communications were restored.
Fani crossed over India’s West Bengal state and moved northeast toward Bangladesh on Saturday, weakening from a severe cyclonic storm to a cyclonic storm.
At least a dozen people had been confirmed killed in Bangladesh as the cyclone hovered over the country’s southwestern coast early Saturday, delivering battering rainstorms. Lightning killed at least six people, local newspapers and TV reported.
However, the death toll had not increased by Saturday afternoon, suggesting effective preparedness in Bangladesh.
Bad weather from the storm system was projected to affect about 100 million people in South Asia, from India’s distant Andaman Islands to Mt. Everest in Nepal.
The relatively low casualty count demonstrates much improved disaster readiness in India since 1999, when a “super” cyclone killed about 10,000 people and devastated large parts of Odisha.
“In the event of such a major calamity like this — where Odisha was hit by close to a super-cyclone — instead of being a tragedy of humongous proportion, we are in the process of restoring critical infrastructure. That is the transformation that Odisha has had,” the state’s top government official, Naveen Patnaik, said in a statement.
India’s disaster response agency said authorities were working “on war footing” to restore power and communications, and clear roads of debris.
Widespread power outages, damaged water supplies and roads blocked by fallen trees and power lines made transport around the affected area difficult, officials said.