Kendrapara, Oct 29 (PTI) Twenty-one years on, the traumatic memories of the calamitous super cyclone of October 29-30 of 1999 are still deeply etched in the minds of people of Odisha's coastal Kendrapara and Jagatsinghpur districts, which had borne the maximum brunt of natures fury then.
The devastating calamity has made most of them mentally stronger. There has been a steady evolution of disaster preparedness mindset ever since seaside pockets had witnessed the dance of death in its ugliest form, say residents of these two districts.
Cyclones struck Odisha at least half-a-dozen times since then. But the fury wrought in 1999 was the worst. 'I was hardly 25 years old then. We were saved as we stayed in the safety of government quarters. But slum dwellers in Sandhakuda perished in large numbers.
'The heart wrenching sights of heaps of corpses being ferried in trucks for mass burial are still fresh in my mind.
The human tragedy trails back to haunt me again and again,' recalled Ardhendu Pattnaik, a native of Tarinigada on the outskirts of Paradip port town in Jagatsinghpur district.
'I was 31-year-old then. Mighty waves had crashed into our village. As many as 120 people had perished then from our village. The disaster had taught us that men are helpless in calamitous hours. But we had taken the things in our stride.
Thanks to government agencies and aid initiative from various quarters, we have been able to rebuild our lives', recalled Mahendra Rout from Japa village, that was one the worst cyclone-ravaged pockets two decades back.
'The super cyclone has taught us the lesson not to ignore the weather warning. Precaution and preparedness is being prioritized by people like us living in cyclone prone villages. The preparedness has paid rich dividends. We have faced at least four cyclones with tenacity and resolve. We have successfully managed to thwart the loss of life and property since then,' 52-year-old Rout said.
The state-of-the-art early warning system developed since then has come in handy for us to move to safer places once the cyclone warning is sounded, he concluded.
Like Rout, people from these clusters of human habitations which had witnessed the catastrophic cyclone and ingress tidal waves speak on the line reiterating the evolution of preparedness mindset on vulnerable pockets.
'The bitter experience still remains intact in our minds. We had encountered how furious the sea and cyclone could become. People nowadays are not taking chances because of the increased awareness level. They are shifting voluntarily to the safety of cyclone shelters once the warning is sounded,' said 55-year-old Pradyot Giri from Badadandua village in Kendrapara district.
The 1999-cyclone claimed as many as 11,966 human lives while families of 6,228 cyclone victims had been disbursed ex-gratia aid. The worst-hit Erasama block in Jagatsinghpur district had accounted for the death of over 6,000 people.
People now have realised that ignoring cyclone warnings will make them pay a heavy price. People have become vigilant and alert. It has evolved from the grassroots level, a senior official said.
Periodic awareness campaigns and mock drills on disaster preparedness have gone a long way in sensitizing people. Improved weather warning system has also invigorated the disaster control mechanism, observed Additional District Magistrate, Paradip, Kanhu Charan Dhir. PTI COR SKN RG RG