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Cyclone Yaas: Odisha launches a challenging evacuation in coastal areas

‘Two types of shelters are being identified — one for COVID-19 and other one for normal — which is a difficult task to perform,’ says a Block Development Officer.

As very severe cyclone Yaas hurtles towards the Odisha coast, field level functionaries in coastal pockets have launched one of most critical evacuations they have ever carried out. Evacuation in the run-up to the cyclone has become much more challenging this time on three counts – Yaas is predicted to cross the coast with 155-165 km wind speed gusting up to 180 km, the COVID-19 situation in villages is far worse compared to that of last year, and May 26, being a full moon day, could magnify the impact of sea surge.

At his office, Pranav Kumar Behera, Block Development Officer of Basudevpur in Bhadrak district, is busy identifying vulnerable population facing cyclone threat and he cannot afford to lose time in evacuating people.

“I have initial target of shifting 25,000 people to safer place by 10 a.m. on Tuesday. The number is likely to increase. Two types of shelters are being identified – one for COVID-19 and other one for normal – which is a difficult task to perform,” he said.

He went on, “besides, people on coastal region are found over-confident of tackling cyclones. It adds to our task of convincing people that the cyclone is more dangerous this time.”

Reluctance to give shelter

People living in concrete houses normal give shelter to people susceptible to cyclones. However, the fear of COVID-19 is being felt this time. People are reluctant to accommodate others.

“We have come up with emotional appeal to give space people who are in danger. We are ready to disinfect or sanitise after 48 hours when cyclone impact starts to subside,” said Mr. Behera.

At Chandbali, in neighbouring block, BDO Jyotibikas Dash is overseeing the shifting of 20,000 people from low-lying areas to safer place. “The storm surge could create havoc if we don’t shift people. If the situation warrants it, we will not hesitate to use force to carry out evacuation. We are also identifying separate shelter houses for people.”

In Kendrapara district, Rabindra Pradhan, BDO of Rajnagar, a sea-side block, said, “we will shift 40,000 people from 15 gram panchayats. Keeping the COVID-19 threat in mind, we have identified 46 cyclone shelters and 51 school buildings to accommodate people.”

Though many field functionaries have been vaccinated, they are still afraid of contracting coronavirus during their deployment for evacuation. It was difficult to maintain the COVID-19 appropriate distance during emergency as people would come in groups, said an official.

The last major cyclone Odisha had faced was in 2019 May when cyclone Fani had devastated the coastal region. The evacuation process was smooth as the COVID-19 threat was non-existent. Exactly a year ago in 2020, cyclonic storm Amphan veered toward West Bengal sparing large parts of Odisha. Moreover, the spread of COVID-19 infection in rural areas was not alarming last year compared to this year.

Meanwhile, coastal districts of Bhadrak and Balasore have started receiving drizzles under the impact of Yaas.

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