When Cyclone Fani made landfall on the southeastern coast of India on Friday, it was the biggest cyclone the country had seen in 20 years. But due to the preparations made by India’s government and emergency services crews, it wasn’t the most devastating.
Before the tropical cyclone arrived, Indian officials evacuated more than a million people from the southeastern state of Odisha, which was expected to be hit the hardest by the storm.
The cyclone ripped through cities and towns on Friday, causing major damage to homes and infrastructure. It then moved towards Bangladesh, where it caused further destruction and took the lives of 34 people, according to Bangladeshi officials. The death toll could rise, as emergency crews struggle to communicate with survivors who are stranded in the parts of Bangladesh that have seen the most destruction.
“Because of [its] rarity, the tracking and prediction was very challenging. In fact, till 24 hours of landfall, one was not sure about the trajectory it was going to take because of the predictions of different agencies,” said Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik in a statement.
“This led to one of the biggest human evacuations in history – a record 1.2 million people were evacuated in 24 hours.”
This is not the first time the state of Odisha has experienced major tropical cyclones. In 1999, the Indian state suffered through a 30-hour super-cyclone that wreaked havoc on buildings and roads and killed over 10,000 people.
Nearly 20 years later, Odisha has improved their evacuation drills, public awareness campaigns, and forecasting techniques and the number of deaths has decreased dramatically. 16 people were killed as a result of Friday’s storm and 160 people are reported to be injured.
The steps taken by Indian authorities was praised by the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR) for being “effective” and had “saved many lives”.
Other international experts applauded the swift action of India’s emergency crews and weather scientists. Josh Morgerman, a cyclone expert from the U.S. wrote “Credit goes to #India authorities for their aggressive pre-impact response, including massive evacuations.”