|Gopalpur-on-Sea (Berhampur, Odisha) on a normal day|
Now I know what 'lull before the storm' literally means. At 10 pm on Saturday evening, the howling winds and incessant rains lashing Gopalpur suddenly ceased. It seemed the worst was over. Cyclone Phailin had made land fall along the coast of Orissa in Gopalpur around 9:15 pm. For 45 minutes after the cyclone first struck, the wind Gods seemed to have gone crazy, blowing uncontrollably in all directions.
We were perched on a balcony, on the first floor, in a multi-storey building about 25 meters off the beach front of Gopalpur, a popular beach side resort town in Orissa, located about three hours from Bhubaneshwar. This was ground zero for Cylone Phailin, the deadliest storm to have hit India in the last decade and a half. The hotels in the area had all been ordered shut by the district administration, and the local fishermen living in hatched huts had been put up in a cyclone evacuation centre established at a Government run school located on a small hill away from the sea. We were the only journalists left reporting from the eye of the storm.
The other crews had moved away to the nearest town of Behrampur. At 10 pm, we were on Aajtak decribing the sudden silence around us. The winds and rain that had been pounding Gopalpur through the day had vanished. A few youngsters ventured out. They were whistling, singing and dancing. They seemed to be mocking the cyclone and had declared victory.
Then all of a sudden, just as unpredictably as it had ceased, the tempest was back. Twice as agressive, twice as deadly. It was the cyclone's turn to mock the hapless inhabitants of Gopalpur. Dogs in the area started barking in tandem. Children were wailing. The youngsters ran in back to save their lives. Our most reliable companion, the mobile network, crashed. The glass panes of our window were smashed. Water started lashing into our room. There was no where to hide. We went into the kitchen. But that wasn't much respite. The glass panes there too broke. Then the roof started leaking. The cyclone was closing in at us from all sides.
Soon the water was coming upto our knees. Our equipment, our clothes all got drenched. We had no where to go, no where to hide. I sat down on the bed behind the window, hoping to stay away from the fury of the winds and rain that was pounding our room. But the pressure of the water was too fast. It was difficult to sit still. So we went into the dining room and stood in the only dry part of the house. There we huddled for two hours while the cyclone wrecked havoc outside.Our thoughts were with our OB engineer, Ritesh, who had been inside the OB van at 10 pm, helping us broadcast live from Gopalpur. The winds had struck with such ferocity and with such little notice, that Ritesh was unable to come out of the van. His Tata-407 was exposed to the full force of the cyclone and was being pushed around like a toy.
As the minutes passed, our concern increased. Ritesh was not still back and there was no news from him. Around 3 hours after Phailin made land fall, we heard our door being banged from outside. First we thought it was the cyclone, but when the knocking got louder, we opened the door. It was Ritesh, who had somehow stormed out of the van and made his way to the building. Antennas were strewn around the pathway as also glass shards from broken windows as Ritesh ran back in.
Ritesh was screaming like a man possessed. Widly describing his experience of being tossed around by winds blowing at faster than 200 kilometers per hour. There was no God he did not remember in the first two minutes of entering the flat.
Huddled in a corner, the night went by slowly. The minutes seemed than on any other other night in my life. It was still raining hard, when day broke the next morning. We ventured out to do a spot check at the fishermen's enclave nearby. A few villagers were milling around assessing the damage to a life time's savings. Relief and fear writ on the faces, relived at having survived but worried about piecing their lives back again.
Source: India Today