Cyclone Phailin

by Gilbert Keith

Cyclone Phailin has made landfall. I don’t know of anyone directly affected, but my sympathies go out to those affected.

There are a bunch of organizations in addition to the Indian government helping out. I made a small donation through Save The Children; if you are able to, you should contribute.

Now for some reporting. From the NY Times

NEW DELHI — A massive cyclone came ashore along the eastern coast of India about 9 p.m. Saturday, flooding homes throughout the region and leading to the evacuations of more than 800,000 people, one of the largest such evacuations in India’s history.

The storm’s maximum sustained winds were about 124 miles per hour with gusts reaching 150 m.p.h., according to Indian officials. At least five people were killed in the coastal city of Gopalpur because of heavy rain and high winds before the storm made landfall, officials said. The storm was expected to drop up to 10 inches of rain over the next two days in some areas.

That 800,000 figure seems kind of low to be impactful. To be clear, any number of evacuees is an unfortunate occurrence, but I thought that the sheer population of India would suggest a much larger evacuation would be in order.

This is what the Google Disaster Map looks like (link) as of now: Image

I know this storm was not going to pummel major cities like Kolkata, Bhubaneshwar,  or Cuttack, which is a good thing. However, I’d probably have expected a larger evacuation. This is what NDTV had reported

Cyclone Phailin is expected to affect around 1.2 crore people in more than five states, the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) said on Friday.

Union Home Secretary Anil Goswami chaired a meeting of national executive council of NDMA meeting on Friday evening to coordinate preparedness for cyclone.

12 Million is a lot of people!

One could go through the exercise of using the census estimates to get a better sense of the potential effects. Unfortunately, I don’t have the wherewithal right now to do that kind of analysis.

You can see some effect of the storm on essential services like railways (from the TOI)

VISAKHAPATNAM: In view of very severe Cyclonic Phailin that made a landfall on the Gopalapur coast in Odisha on Saturday night, East Coast Railways (ECoR) regulated the services of more than 40 trains passing between Visakhapatnam and Bhubaneswar railway stations under ECoR limits on Saturday.

The services of seven trains were cancelled, while seven were short-terminated. Twenty-six trains were diverted through alternative stations like Vijayawada and Vizianagaram.

The easiest comparison for me, for historical reference, comes from Hurricane Katrina (I was to young to remember the aftermath of the 1999 Odisha cyclone.) From the CS Monitor:

To compare it with U.S. storms, McNoldy said cyclone Phailin is nearly the size of hurricane Katrina, which killed 1,200 people in 2005 and caused devastating flooding in New Orleans, but also has the wind power of 1992’s hurricane Andrew, which packed 265 kph (165 mph) winds at landfall in Miami.

But in India, cyclone Phailin is being compared with “Cyclone 5B” or the “Odisha cyclone” of 1999, named after the eastern India state (formerly known as Orissa)  that bore the brunt of the damage.  It was the strongest storm ever recorded in the Indian Ocean. In that cyclone, some 10,000 died and 275,000 homes were destroyed by high winds, flooding, and a storm surge that reached 26 feet.

Per Wikipedia – nearly 1 million people were evacuated from the New Orleans and suburban areas prior to Hurricane Katrina

By the time Hurricane Katrina came ashore early the next morning, Mayor Nagin estimated that approximately one million people had fled the city and its surrounding suburbs.[21] By the evening of August 28, over 100,000 people remained in the city, with 20,000 taking shelter at the Louisiana Superdome, along with 300 National Guard troops.[22]