Over the weekend, Cyclone Fani hit coasts of the Indian Ocean, particularly the eastern coast of India and the country of Bangladesh. As the storm was tracked forming over the Bay of Bengal, meteorologists warned that this storm was potentially the worst one seen for the past twenty years.
Twenty years ago, one of the strongest cyclones in India’s history hit its eastern coast and devastated the countryside and cities. 160 mile-an-hour winds and tidal surges of up to five feet high caused over ten thousand deaths, with many bodies never being found. Bangladesh also has suffered mightily from tropical storms. In 1970, the Great Bhola Cyclone drove a tidal wave that resulted in killing an estimated 300,000 people. Even recently, in 2009 Cyclone Sidr killed 3,000 people. Authorities were very concerned that Cyclone Fani reaching the shores could cause similar levels of destruction.
However, authorities in both India and Bangladesh, the two countries most affected by the cyclones coming out of the Bay of Bengal, have spent the past few decades dramatically improving their disaster preparedness programs and assistance/relief efforts. With better-detection technology, disaster relief agencies and departments in India began evacuating more than a million people from the eastern coast. The widespread adoption of technology across India’s population also helped evacuation efforts. Televisions, radios, and cell phones were bombarded with warnings about the storm and urgent calls to evacuate. And even for those disconnected from technology, loudspeakers and people with megaphones went from village to village urging people to leave and warning them of potential dangers.
In addition, a massive number of storm shelters have been constructed and opened along Odisha’s coast, as the state is determined to never repeat the horrors of twenty years ago. The more than 850 storm shelters can each hold 1,000 people, along with livestock. A similar scale of efforts have been seen in Bangladesh, with disaster management secretary Shah Kamal announcing that 1.2 million people had been safely evacuated before the storm made landfall. Both governments took the responsible actions of suspending fishing operations and canceling nearby travel. In some cases, police officers went through coastal towns, practically demanding people evacuate to a shelter.
As a result, the much feared Cyclone Fani killed only a few dozen people. While still tragic, it is heartening to see just how much India and Bangladesh have improved when it comes to protecting these vulnerable populations from tropical storms. The region is one of the most densely populated in the world, and with Cyclone Fani affecting areas as far away as Mount Everest, it really demonstrates just how important disaster planning can be. While many thousands of people have had their livelihoods destroyed or damaged, most importantly they survived and will be able to rebuild.
Image Credits: National Park Service