At the Heart of Cyclone Fani: A Survivor’s Account

EXPLORATION / Cylone Fani hit coastal Odisha and rendered immense damage on the state. Here is a heartfelt account of what it felt like to be at the heart of the natural calamity.


Cylone Fani hit coastal Odisha and rendered immense damage on the state. Here is a heartfelt account of what it felt like to be at the heart of the natural calamity.

Mahek Sahoo is a young graduate living in one of the worst affected villages in coastal Odisha.  The following piece has been transcribed from a detailed telephonic conversation.

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[dropcap]W[/dropcap]hat is it like to be sitting all alone in a room amidst the darkness of the night and the constant shudder of the windows as high speed winds hit on them like pebbles on glass?  The sound of the cyclone winds hitting on glass windows as if they could be smashed into minuscule pieces any moment is truly terrifying.  Just a couple of hours earlier when the television sets were still working,  the winds weren’t too hard and it didn’t seem like enduring the cyclone would be so hard, but now it seems that with night fall the cyclone has become even more aggressive. The feelings have completely changed in a matter of few hours as the cyclone has promised to bring with it immense destruction and we have almost no power in our hands to resist the tremendous strength of nature. 

Late in the evening when the winds rose to an unprecedented speed and trees outside began to be uprooted as if they were toothpicks stuck to soil.  I realised that the coming days would be extremely difficult.  The lights went off, the mobile networks disappeared and the night began to grow even more intense.  The sound of the winds, the cutting down of all connectivity, the absence of any source of information about the possible stages in the cyclone’s progression filled me with an immense sense of helplessness.  By the time morning came, my ears were blocked as if I was on an airplane and then there was no surety whether it would be days before the cyclone finally receded. How many more hours would cyclone Fani continue? Would the cyclone tear apart my home? Would I die? How long will it be before normalcy returns?  Although I felt tempted to neglect the warnings and take to the streets, to find out what had happened to the rest of the city- I resisted the temptation as the growling of the winds deafened my ears and the strong gusts of wind sent shudders down my body. 

The power went off and there was no way to get in touch with loved ones, candles and torches came out and illuminated what was left of the neighborhoods.  As I stared out of the window, I saw cars tossed, trees uprooted, homes with thatched roofs torn apart, stray dogs and cats lying dead amidst immense piles of debris- there was nothing left for me to do, there was no one I could ask for help and no certainty that life would soon come back to normalcy. It has today been about a week since cyclone Fani hit Odisha’s coast and wherever you see, your eyes will just see destruction. Around 3.5 million households are still plunged in darkness and it may take long before power is restored. Among the worst affected districts are Cuttack, Khurda, Bulgaon and Puri.  While the state government has been working to improve things for the citizens, water supply too has been adversely hit.  Generators are being used to draw out water from bore wells, run fans and even charge mobiles. With the summer at its peak, and no electricity or water- life in the coastal districts remains stuck at a standstill even a week after the calamity has passed.  

As a young man living alone in one of Odisha’s most adversely affected coastal villages, I realised that our inflated egos have taken us far away from nature and given us the illusion that everything is in man’s control.  Contrary to what we would like to believe, nature has her own way of making us understand that we are fragile and vulnerable and although we may predict cyclones or earthquakes we don’t have the power to avert them.  It humbled me and made me come to terms with the reality that we are mere particles of the universe and that nature is the overarching force that cannot be tamed.  I witnessed loneliness, acute helplessness, fear and isolation- I experienced death waiting outside my door.  For many years to come I will wake up in the middle of my sleep recalling the hellish nights,  the ocean and the wind will scare me and I will find it hard to believe that everything is finally normal.

My state has experienced two immensely powerful cyclones (the last being in 1999 and killing more than 15,000 people) and I have witnessed them both.  I have found myself helpless and I wish nobody experiences the doom of those four days when cyclone Fani hit the coast of Odisha.  Today as I sit back and share my experiences, I feel humbled and grateful that after the immense ordeal I am alive. Every breath matters more, every heartbeat makes me aware of the precious gift of life.


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