Terrified Memory of 1999 Super Cyclone

Bhubaneswar: The 1999 Odisha cyclone came 23 years back but the devastating trip of memories it left behind can never be washed away. It was the most intense recorded tropical cyclone in the North Indian Ocean and among the most destructive in the region. It had some unique features such as rapid intensification, a small radius of eyewall confining the large surge close to the point of landfall, and a relatively long life after landfall.

The 1999 Odisha cyclone was first detected when it was at its low-pressure stage over the gulf of Siam by the IMD cyclone surveillance system on the morning of October 24, five days before it made landfall. The storm rapidly intensified, attaining super cyclonic storm intensity on October 28, before peaking on the next day with winds of 260 km/h (160 mph) and a record-low pressure of 912 mbar.

The storm maintained this intensity as it made landfall on Odisha around 10.30 am, on October 29 between Ersama and Balikuda in Jagatsinghpur district (southwest of Paradip) uprooting a large number of trees, electric poles, devastating houses, and human settlements and creating severe destruction.

The districts of Kendrapada and Jagatsinghpur, which were along and close to the track of the super cyclone were the most hit districts where alone 3.5 lakh houses collapsed. 2.5 lakh houses collapsed partially. The cyclone steadily weakened due to persistent land interaction and dry air, remaining quasi-stationary for two days before slowly drifting offshore as a much weaker system; the storm dissipated on November 4, over the Bay of Bengal.

The storm in 1999 led to 45 cm to 95 cm of rainfall and affected 14 coastal districts, 28 coastal towns, and two major cities of Bhubaneswar and Cuttack. While the official death toll then was 9,885 people, unofficial sources estimated the toll to be above 50,000. An estimated 1,500 children were orphaned. Of the total casualty, Jagatsinghpur district alone accounted for 8,119 people. The storm had left 7,505 people injured.

At least 13 million people, including 3.3 million children, 5 million women, and nearly 3.5 million elderly people were affected in 1999. An estimated 1,500 children were orphaned. Around 16,50,086 houses were damaged, 23,129 houses were washed away, 7,46,337 houses were fully destroyed and 8,80,620 houses were partially damaged.

Stations in Paradip and Bhubaneswar each recorded sustained winds of 150 km/h (95 mph) before their instruments failed. Winds of 175 km/h (110 mph) were measured in Puri as the cyclone passed to the north. The Bhubaneswar Airport was closed for operations with severe damage to air traffic control equipment. It resumed operations on November 2, 1999.

Downed power lines across the state cut off communications for over 24 hours and caused widespread power outages. Odisha has since boosted its cyclone preparedness and received international awards for its efforts. The IMD too has improved its forecast accuracy.

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