Bracing for Cyclone Fani: Rescue teams battle public reluctance to evacuate in Odisha

By SAMPAD PATNAIK A day ahead of Cyclone Fani The state government has set a target to evacuate 11.5 lakh people across 15 districts 3 lakh in Puri alone. According to the office of the Special Relief Commissioner, the Puri district administration managed to evacuate only 22,250 people by 4 pm. The At around 10 am, a 21-member team of the National Disaster Response Force left for the main town beach to persuade crowds near the waves to return to safety. Assessing the composition of the crowd, the unit repeated its message in fluent Hindi, Odiya and Bengali. Members of the team, who come from around six states, took turns at the megaphone. However, most among the audience remained unmoved, including an English-speaking group that called the high waves and strong gusts A group of three elderly couples from Kolkata continued strolling on the beach. We had planned this holiday four months in advance. We keep our children updated over phone, SK Chattopadhyay, a retired engineer part of the group, said, The manager offered us a refund upon evacuation, but we refused. The Puri district administration had on Wednesday warned all hotels to evacuate guests within 24 hours. The East Coast Railways (ECoR) and the state government have arranged for special trains and buses to various destinations. Meanwhile, the NDRF unit on the beach was joined by private security guards from nearby hotels, fire service personnel, lifeguards and a few local residents. The crowd listened patiently to the announcements but stood their ground to click selfies with their backs to the increasingly high waves, ignoring the red flags hoisted every 50 metres on the sand. After a heavy shower, they finally left the beach and took shelter in the shops nearby. In Brahmagiri block, expected to be impacted the most, many villagers refused to evacuate their homes citing fear of theft, emotional attachment to their possessions and hope that they will not be harmed. His wife and children decided to stay with him instead of going to the nearest storm shelter readied by the state government. But it is hard to convince people that their lives are more precious than any other possession, In certain areas along the Konark beach, rescue teams complained of lack of support from the local administration. But they are not always prompt in providing support, Chief minister Naveen Patnaik has appealed to the people not to panic as the government is fully prepared to deal with the situation in the aftermath of the cyclone. Andhra Pradesh chief minister N Chandrababu Naidu also.