Kendrapara (Odisha), May 24 (PTI) With the Odisha government launching a massive evacuation drive to save people from the fury of Cyclone Yaas, many people in the coastal districts of Kendrapara and Jagatsinghpur are reluctant to move to government shelters as they are scared of catching coronavirus, an official said.
It is an enormous challenge for safeguarding people this time amid the raging pandemic, the official said.
'Maintaining social distancing norms while carrying out evacuation has become an uphill task. Still we are trying to convince the people not to take chances and shift to cyclone shelters and pucca houses,' said the official who is monitoring evacuation work in Erasama block of Jagatsinghpur district.
The seaside block was battered by the 1999 super cyclone as an estimated 10,000 people had perished then.
'We are planning to begin the evacuation work on Monday evening or early morning on Tuesday. There are signs of reluctance among some sections of people. The fear of getting infected with COVID-19 in cyclone shelters is bothering them.
'But we have sensitised the locals for adhering to COVID protocols while evacuating people. Those who were unwilling are slowly evincing interest to shift to safer places' said Rabindra Pradhan, Block Development Officer, Rajnagar block in Kendrapara district.
Around 100 people have so far been shifted to Okilopal cyclone shelter while 20 pregnant women from Talchua and Rangani were shifted to Rajnagar Community Health Centre, he said.
The block administration has readied 46 cyclone shelters and 51 school buildings, he said.
Around 35,000 to 40,000 are being planned to be shifted to temporary shelters.
'If those residing in vulnerable pockets do not volunteer, we may opt for forced evacuation because of the anticipated severity of the cyclone this time,' he added.
Cyclone Fani had battered coastal Odisha in May 2019.
However, the evacuation exercise was not difficult as there was no COVID-19 scare then.
In May last year, Odisha had faced the threat of cyclone Amphan when the state was battling the first wave of COVID-19.
The cyclone had largely spared the state hitting the West Bengal coast, the authorities had not faced the challenges of massive evacuation last year.
With the COVID surge being much more pronounced than last year, the fear of contracting the infection remains uppermost in peoples minds.
'Shifting to a shelter house is a safer option. Thats why we moved to the building in the evening hours. We are aware of the Coronavirus threat but we will abide by COVID safety protocols.
'Our village is quite vulnerable to tidal surge if the cyclone strikes. So we have made up our mind to battle COVID and cyclone simultaneously,' said Gouranga Rout, a native of Ambiki village in Jagatsinghpur.
Cyclone Yaas is likely to cross Odisha-West Bengal coast on May 26. PTI COR AAM MM MM