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Cyclone Fani: what we know

The biggest cyclone in 20 years has hit India. Millions were in its path in India and Bangladesh.

A man surveys the damage caused by boats in Puri, India as two children crouch around a milk container in the rubble.
A man surveys the damage in Puri, India.
Arijit Sen/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

An enormous tropical cyclone made landfall in eastern India Friday near the coastal city of Puri, impacting an area that’s home to tens of millions of people.

It’s believed the storm, called Cyclone Fani (pronounced “Foni”), struck the coast with winds in excess of 115 miles per hour (equivalent to a Category 3 hurricane). That makes it the strongest storm to hit India in 20 years.

The storm has since weakened but will remain a dangerous system as it moves up India’s east coast toward Bangladesh, where 2.1 million people are expected to be evacuated, according to CNN. Flash flooding and potentially deadly landslides may occur. So far, three deaths have been reported due to the storm. Overall, the United Nations warns that 28 million people live in the path of the storm.

As New Delhi Television notes:

A teenager was killed when a tree came crashing down on him in Puri. Flying debris from a concrete structure hit a woman in Nayagarh district. In Kendrapara, a 65-year-old woman died after suspected heart attack at a cyclone shelter.

Fani strengthened over ideal conditions for cyclone formation.
NASA Earth Observatory

Tropical cyclones are the exact same weather phenomenon as hurricanes. And the winds are just one of the risks they bring.

This monster storm also brought with it a storm surge of 13 feet in some areas, according to the Weather Channel. Storm surge is a literal wall of water a cyclone pushes onshore, and it tends to be the deadliest feature of a cyclone. It can also be very destructive (as we saw with Hurricane Sandy in 2012).

In preparation for Cyclone Fani, more than a million people were evacuated in coastal areas in the Indian state Odisha, where the storm hit. Some 4,000 shelters were set up in the region. Train stations and airports were closed.

The evacuations were justified. In 1999, a similar-sized storm hit Odisha and killed nearly 10,000 people.

The Indian state Odisha is in red.
Wikimedia Commons

What we know

  • As the storm moved through the western Indian state of Odisha, the Indian Meteorological Department downgraded Cyclone Fani to a “deep depression.”
  • According to the World Meteorological Organization, a storm is classified as a deep depression if its wind speed is 32-38 mph. When Cyclone Fani made landfall in Puri, India, it did so with wind speeds of greater than 115 mph.
  • Puri, a coastal city in the state of Odisha with important religious significance for Hindus, was “devastated” according to the state’s special relief commissioner, Bishnupada Sethi, who said, “Destruction is unimaginable.”
  • Sethi said there has been major damage to homes and business, with the storm tearing off many roofs. Power lines were downed, and water has left some roads inaccessible; electricity and communications have not yet been fully restored, leaving officials uncertain of conditions on the ground in some of Odisha’s more remote regions.
  • More than 3 million people were affected by the storm in India. Damage to poorer neighborhoods in Odisha’s capital city, Bhubaneswar, is extensive; officials said hundreds of thousands of people were rendered homeless there.
  • India’s National Disaster Response Force was deployed ahead of the storm. Teams of workers spent Saturday removing fallen trees and setting up diesel generators to temporarily restore power throughout Odisha.
  • The electric grid in Odisha is expected to need $173.7 million in repairs.
  • Indian officials are still working on temporarily restoring power, focusing first on supplying electricity for emergency services. Energy Secretary Hemanta Sharma said power in Bhubaneswar should be restored within a week, but warned “it may take a bit longer for Puri where the devastation to power structures is maximum.”
  • At least 300 people were injured across Odisha; as of Sunday, at least 33 people have been killed there. At least six of those deaths occurred in Bhubaneswar; 21 occurred in Puri. A massive evacuation of 1.2 million people is credited with saving countless lives.
  • After passing through India, the storm moved to Bangladesh, where more than 1 million people were evacuated.
  • Bangladeshi officials believe at least 11,000 homes have been damaged; 2,200 were destroyed.
  • At least 12 people were killed in Bangladesh, with at least six people killed by lightning. At least 63 people were injured.
  • The Bangladeshi government has reportedly compensated four families with loved ones who died weathering the storm outside of official shelters.
  • Most of those evacuated to shelters in Bangladesh have returned home. Indian officials said their citizens have begun returning home from shelters, and that all evacuated Indians should be home within the next five days.
  • Those returning to affected areas have been warned to be on guard for heavy rains and tidal surges.
  • Relief agencies are working to provide food and medicine to those in need; however crumbled buildings, fallen trees, and damaged roads are hampering these efforts.
  • Odisha’s government announced an aid package Sunday of rice, cash, and emergency blankets. The Air Force and Navy have been deployed to help distribute supplies.
  • Odisha’s government also announced a three-tiered repair fund for damaged and destroyed buildings. Owners of destroyed structures will receive $1,374, those with partial damage will receive $75, and those with minor damage will receive $46.
  • On Sunday, Indian officials praised the 60,000 government workers and employees involved in the massive evacuation as well as the 45,000 volunteers who assisted evacuees during the storm itself.

What we don’t know

  • The total number of casualties
  • When full power will be restored
  • The Bangladeshi government’s aid plans

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