SUPERCYCLONE AT JAGATSINGHPUR
Prior to joining the police, I got my degree in engineering, so my observation of the working of police dept. is from a different perspective. The police subculture is a
distinct one. After I became superintendent of police I have experienced many eventful days. I have been fortunate to work in four districts (Provinces) in Orissa State of India. They are tribal, forested, mining
belts and infested with extremists called " People's War Group". In one district, "Gajapati", I had to face the tribal uprising against the non-tribals. But the most unforgettable experience was
when I was posted to one coastal district of Orissa when the supercyclone had hit during Oct 28/29th and the tidal wave took 10,000 human lives and so many more cattle lives. The forewarning, rescue and relief
operations were the responsibility of the local district administration. Hence I had the Herculean task of managing the whole show. I failed in some areas- succeeded in some other areas, but the first hand
experience of disaster management is a unique one.
As I am born in interior India - I had not experienced the tropical cyclone any time before. But I had a good theoretical knowledge about it since I was a
student of Geography. On Oct' 25th around 2 P.M. we got news that a low pressure zone was developing in the Bay of Bengal in India Ocean. Orissa coast is west of the Bay of Bengal. On 26th the low-pressure zone
developed into a full form cyclonic centre. The advanced warning was that it might hit the land in between Orissa coast and Bengal coast. On 27th it was reported that the cyclone was dangers and that cyclonic storm
wind speed may cross 200 k.m./hr. District Magistrate and myself chalked out a programme for zero casualty disaster handling. It was the first time we were handling such a major disaster (which we could realise
after the super cyclone passed over us). Our first job was to warn the people and evacuate them. We were also hopeful that the cyclone would not hit our coast and we would remain in the periphery. (Unfortunately,
the "eye of the cyclone" directly went over us). We did not have a disaster handling team, nor were the police well equipped to handle such a large-scale natural phenomena. It does not happen everyday, you
know! I sent out my force to different coastal sectors to remain stationed and persuade the local inhabitants to be evacuated. Indian coastal area is not well connected with roadways. It was an emergency and in the
hurry I made the mistake of overlooking whether the force had taken ration with them. It was beyond the imagination that the world would do a somersault after the cyclone, that there would be no food, no water,
road, electricity or communication systems after the cyclone.
On night of 28th Oct' cyclonic rain started. I was watching the track of the cyclone over the US naval website in the Internet in the control
room. Our police wireless net-VHF (Very high frequency) sets were still working. The coastal police station of ERASAMA (where maximum casualty took place) reported strong wind by 10 P.M. Similarly port town
Paradeep reported the same. Our control was at district head quater Jagatsingpur, 80 K.M from coast. Hundreds of coconut trees fell down on the road blocking it completely. I drove my jeep and did patrolling of the
entire area at night. By 4 a.m. I was dozing in the office chair. I woke up with a start after sometime and jumped to the window. It was dark all around. Wind was picking up. The VHF sets were still working. I
talked to the Dy.Supdt of Police at Paradeep and he reported high wind speed and telephones being disconnected. One after the other the coastal VHF sets went out of air as the masts got uprooted. A panic - stricken
Subinspector was giving a commentary from Balikuda - "Everything is invisible now. There is a terrible wind raging around us. All is going to end soon". Just as he broke down he went off air. Being
desperate I went to the police station and wanted to be with my force. Once on the road, it was difficult to walk. Trees were breaking, glass panes were flying. I managed to walk 500 mts. and reached the police
station. From 1a.m till 12.30 p.m. there was a devastating cyclone. Wind speed marched at 160/180 kmph. Almost all standing trees got uprooted. The roots of the big trees uprooted the underground telephone cables.
All telephone lines went dead. The electric poles lay on hip on the roads. Suddenly the cyclone stopped at 12.30 p.m. Sky became clear. All of us were on the roads to assess the damage. The bright sunny sky duped us
and we never realised that we were inside the "eye of the cyclone", when the descending air column makes the sky clear. Between 12.30 to 3.p.m we erected the wireless antennae mast and tried to communicate
with the other stations. We were shocked to here that the cyclone was still continuing there. After 3 P.M. the tail of the cyclone again passed over us. This time the wind direction was just opposite; wind speeds
over 200 kmph. Everything was a blur. Throughout the night the cyclone lashed against houses, trees and human life. By 8 Am. the next day, the speed dropped to a manageable limit though the rain continued. The
police force was on the roads. I had around 30 armed police personnel with me. Despite the heart- rending scene we had to first clear the roads. We cleared the broken tree branches. With axe and manual cutting it
was very slow progress. Some of the very big trees had 15 to 18 feet trunk diameter. Constantly we spoke to the traumatised people providing them whatever food was available in the police mess, promising help from
outside soon. Nights were a bigger challenge as it was pitch dark. Anti-socials and hooligans took advantage of the situation, since the police mobility was zero. Looting of the godowns had to be prevented. Panicky
buying of food led to stampedes at shops. Most shops closed down indefinitely. I had to go to their houses and convince them about their safety. We had our hands full - motivating people, cutting trees, clearing
roads, stopping looting etc. During the nights we distributed rice from the Government godowns by 31st we contacted other police station through the resurrected wireless sets. In some police stations the
survivors were spending time among the dead floating all around. The whole day I spoke to them building up their morale. External agencies and State Government were contacted for air dropping essential commodities
in these areas. By then we had assessed around 10,000 death. After a day the weather became clear. We encouraged people to dry leaves and use it to boil water. Four days after the cyclone outside relief reached us.
Army convoys escorted the relief material. Although we were anticipating rioting the people were with us. We had been with them in their hours of distress and now they were showing loyalty to us. Emotions were
running high. Assets of generation had disappeared in a minute. People had lost their kith and kin, near and dear ones. We made flag marches in the town so that the people would gain confidence. Another most urgent
matter was the disposal of thousands of carcass and corpses. Most of them were floating in the water, in creeks, canals and paddyfields. Retrieving and burning them became a problem as there was no fuel wood. We
utilised waste motor tires to burn them. Civil, defence, volunteers from NGOs helped the police in this task. Maximum precaution was taken to clear the contaminated water. So there was no outbreak of epidemic.
Simultaneously, traffic arrangements had to be made for thousands of visitors who came pouring in.
The Super cyclone has left behind a trail of traumatic experiences and has given wonderful opportunities to
the police to serve mankind. The image of police reached an all time high, for their dedication and hard work. My house which had been a hostel for all police officers from all over India was finally empty. While my
wife was busy altering my trousers (I had lost four k.gs) I was thinking of the many small ways in which we had altered the devastating after-math of the super cyclone.
Copyright © 2000
Indian Police Service,
Superintendent of Police, Jajpur (ORISSA)
The Internet affords police officers from around the world to communicate with each other and discuss common
problems. I asked Superintendent Lalit Das of the Indian Police Service to write about his police experiences. He honored me with this personal account of one of those experiences.
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