Early Warnings and Quick Evacuation Help India Avoid Deaths From Cyclones

Authorities in India have indicated that because of early warnings, accurate identification of susceptible locations, and quick evacuations, a large number of lives were spared when cyclone Biparjoy pounded the west coast late on Thursday.

Biparjoy, which means “calamity” in Bengali, blew through the state of Gujarat with speeds of up to 125 kph (78 mph), ripping the roofs off of homes and bringing down trees and power lines.

However, hours before the storm reached landfall, two shepherds were killed while trying to keep their animals from being swept away by strong rains and floods. According to local media, a huge storm in Gujarat killed over 4,000 people in 1998, while a ‘very severe cyclone’ named Tauktae killed around 100 in 2001.

Early identification of areas that were likely to be impacted by the cyclone and timely evacuation of people living within 10 km of the coasts are the biggest reasons (for the low casualties),” said Kamal Dayani, a senior official in the Gujarat state government.

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“Our focus from the beginning was on preventing loss of lives, not just human lives but even animals.” Eight coastal districts with a population of over 100,000 were evacuated the day before the hurricane hit, and those individuals were relocated to shelters put up in school auditoriums and other government buildings.

Authorities also blocked beaches, and schools, and banned fishing. A number of days prior, operations had been halted at a number of offshore oil installations and key ports that dot the Gujarat coast.

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In addition, thirty teams comprised of federal and state emergency responders were sent out. Dayani added that early warnings from the India Meteorological Department (IMD) and the storm that affected the sparsely populated regions of the desert district of Kutch were both helpful.

The death toll was relatively low, but more than 5,100 power poles were knocked down, cutting out energy to more than 4,600 communities.

“We will study what we have done right and also identify the areas we can do better in the future,” Dayani said. “Right now, our focus is on relief and rehabilitation efforts and restoring normalcy.”

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