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Preparing for Cyclone Phailin

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RG-Phailin-eastern_India_rain_peak_201310Update4: The water carried over land by Cyclone Phaillin has now travelled northwards and west. Daily monsoon system monitoring by the Centre for Ocean-Land-Atmosphere Studies – COLA (a scientific research centre to improve understanding and prediction of Earth’s climate variations) now show the danger from very heavy rain to districts in interior Odisha, eastern Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Bihar and eastern Uttar Pradesh.

The soil moisture in these regions is already high – as it should be at the end of the south-west monsoon – and very heavy spells of rain approaching 20mm in three hours will cause widespread flooding. The National Disaster Management Authority and the armed forces will continue to have to be on the alert for flood-related rescue calls from these regions.

Update3: It is very worrying to find that:

(a) satellite images shared by a global meteorological community are showing that Cyclone Phailin crossed the Indian coast between 1800 and 1900 (6pm and 7pm) but until well after 1900 (7pm) the Indian Meteorological Department told television news channels it was still approaching, and

The NOAA image dated 12 October 2013 and timed at 1400 UTC which shows the eye of Phailin having crossed the Indian coast in Srikakulam district, Andhra Pradesh.

The NOAA image dated 12 October 2013 and timed at 1400 UTC which shows the eye of Phailin having crossed the Indian coast in Srikakulam district, Andhra Pradesh.

(b) that hourly data from the automated weather stations on the eastern coast are not visible – no explanation as to whether they had been knocked out by the cyclonic conditions or whether the data links were down.

Update2: The armed forces and para-military and disaster relief and rescue teams are reported to be ready. Two Indian Air Force IL-76 aircraft have taken teams and equipment to Bhubaneshwar, Odisha. The Indian Air Force is on stand-by at various bases including Raipur, Nagpur, Jagdalpur, Barrackpore, Ranchi and Gwalior. At least 28 teams of the National Disaster Response Forces have been mobilised.

Fishermen moving fishing boats (above) to safe places following a warning about Phailin cyclone in Srikakulam district. Photo: The Hindu/Basheer. The Phailin data sheet at IST 1100 on the Tropical Storm Risk website (below).

Fishermen moving fishing boats (above) to safe places following a warning about Phailin cyclone in Srikakulam district. Photo: The Hindu/Basheer. The Phailin data sheet at IST 1100 on the Tropical Storm Risk website (below).

The East Coast Railway has cancelled or re-scheduled passenger trains between Visakhapatnam and Bhadrak on the Howrah-Chennai Main Line route, PTI News has reported. Among these trains are Puri-Cuttack-Puri passenger, Paradeep-Cuttack passenger, Cuttack-Paradeep passenger, Puri-Gunupur-Puri passenger, Puri-Rourkela passenger, Puri-Cuttack passenger, Bhadrak-Cuttack-Bhadrak passenger and Cuttack-Palasa-Cuttack passenger trains.

PTI News has reported that Odisha has opened control rooms for the cyclone. The helpline number of the Odisha Central Control Room is 0674-2534177
The district control room numbers are: Mayurbhanj 06792-252759, Jajpur 06728-222648, Gajapati 06815-222943, Dhenkanal 06762-221376, Khurda 06755-220002, Keonjhar 06766-255437, Cuttack 0671-2507842, Ganjam 06811-263978, Puri 06752-223237, Kendrapara 06727-232803, Jagatsinghpur 06724-220368, Balasore 06782-262674, Bhadrak 06784-251881.

In Odisha, 200 trained ham radio operators have been put on alert to help with rescue work. Eight stations have been put on ‘active alert’ while there are 28 stations as back-up around India.

Via Twitter:
Google Person Finder has readied a service in response to cyclone Phailin to help find friends and loved ones (thanks to @GautamGhosh)
Phailin is forecast to strike at IST 1730 (5.30 pm) local time. Trust Foundation has a status page (thanks to @nitabhalla)

Also consult the Tropical Storm Risk site for frequent updates on the course and strength of Phailin.

Update1: For those in coastal Odisha and Andhra Pradesh, check TV and radio broadcasts for weather alerts and conditions in your district for as long as there is electricity. The government weather websites – India Meteorological Department and Mausam – have become very unresponsive probably due to high traffic.

Use the #Phailin hashtag on Twitter to find news and alerts near where you are. See useful examples like these:
Odisha Control Room numbers: Ganjam 06811-263978; Puri 06752-223237; Kendrapara 06727-232803 (thanks for this info to @aditya_manocha )
@debasis3: “Here we go. Rains have started in Bhubaneswar”
More Odisha Control Room numbers: Balasore 06782-262674; Bhadrak 06784-251881; Mayurbhanj 06792-252759; Jajpur 06728-222648 (thanks for this info to @ketan72 )

A new map of Phailin and its possible pathways from the Global Disaster Alert and Coordination System (GDACS)

A new map of Phailin and its possible pathways from the Global Disaster Alert and Coordination System (GDACS)

Important advice from the National Disaster Management Authority of India – If you are in the cyclone danger zone: check the house; secure loose tiles. remove dead wood or dry branches close to the house. Anchor movable objects like piles of wood, tin sheets (these are deadly when sent flying during a cyclone), loose bricks, rubbish bins (whose lids can fly like dangerous missiles in high wind), unbolted sign-boards.

Keep a few wooden boards, nails and a hammer ready to board up glass windows if they are in danger of shattering inwards. Keep emergency lighting ready. Ensure mobile phones are charged. Keep battery-operated torches ready batteries handy. Store boiled or filtered water for drinking. Keep dry food (such as biscuits) at hand if conditions worsen and you can’t cook a hot meal.

Zee News (television and online) has reported that in Odisha “thousands flee to shelter homes stocked with emergency food supplies and medicines”. National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) teams have reached Bhubaneswar (capital of Odisha) as evacuations have begun in Odisha and north Andhra Pradesh. Union Defence Minister A K Antony has asked armed forces to be ready to move in to Odisha and Andhra Pradesh.

NDTV (television and online) has reported that five districts “are preparing for the worst impact of the cyclone: Srikakulam in Andhra Pradesh and Ganjam, Puri, Khordha and Jagatsinghapur in Odisha.” Helicopters and food packages are ready for areas that are likely to be worst hit. A minister in the Andhra Pradesh state government has reportedly said that 64,000 people are being evacuated from Srikakulam, Vishakhapatnam and Vizianagaram and are being shifted to cyclone shelters.

The forecast six-day path of cyclone Phailin.

The forecast six-day path of cyclone Phailin.

The state of Odisha is preparing for Cyclone Phailin as it approaches from the Bay of Bengal. Consult the new map of Phailin and its possible pathways from the Global Disaster Alert and Coordination System (GDACS).

My reading of the forecast path of the cyclone – using the map sets from the National Centre for Medium Range Weather Forecasting (Earth System Science Organisation, Ministry of Earth Sciences) – is that in Odisha the districts of Ganjam, Puri, Jagatsinghpur, Kendrapara, Bhadrak, Baleshwar, Kordha, Jajapur, Cuttack, Nayagarh and Gajapati will be in the cyclone’s path beginning with increasingly heavy rain and fierce winds from Saturday morning 12 October 2013; in Andhra Pradesh the districts of Srikakulam, Vizianagaram and Visakhapatnam and in West Bengal the districts of Purba Medinipur will be in the cyclone’s path.

RG-Cyclone_Phailin_day3_sectionThe series of stacked rainfall forecast maps above show the approach of Cyclone Phailin from 11 October.

Look for the deep blue circle in the left panel from the first pair (top left, 24 hours) – extending out ahead of the cyclone core is the rain storm, which will cross the northern coast of Andhra Pradesh. In the second pair (top middle, 48 hours), the blue circle has moved closer to the coast – rainfall from the vast gyre of clouds around the approaching cyclone will extend far inland, in a great spike through Andhra Pradesh, parts of Madhya Pradesh and north into western Uttar Pradesh.

In the third pair (top right, 72 hours), the cyclone has made landfall with Odisha in the centre and affected districts in Andhra Pradesh to the south and West Bengal to the north – this is when the disaster management teams in the districts will be taxed to the utmost, having already been battered by heavy rain and unrelenting high-speed winds for two days.

RG-cyclone_districts_20131011In the fourth pair (lower left, 96 hours) the cyclone is still very active as it moves north-west to sweep across Odisha. In the fifth pair (lower middle, 120 hours) the cyclone core has finally weakened (no longer coloured deep blue) but has moved into Jharkhand, Bihar, West Bengal and eastern Uttar Pradesh. In the sixth pair (lower right, 144 hours) the cyclone’s force has dissipated leaving rain in its wake across eastern India.

Orissa Dairy has reported (‘Phailin upgraded to super cyclone’): “The very severe cyclonic storm Phailin, expected to make landfall at Gopalpur in Odisha, moved closer to the state and lay about 600 km southeast of Paradip, as the government sought the help of defence forces to boost its preparedness, official sources said on Thursday night.”

RG-Cyclone_Phailin_day4_sectionThe Hindustan Times has reported (‘Cyclone Phailin: deep depression over Bay of Bengal intensifies further’): “A morning bulletin of Bhubaneswar meteorological department on Friday said the cyclone would move north-westward and cross Andhra Pradesh and Odisha coast between Kalingapatam (Andhra Pradesh) and Paradip, close to Gopalpur, by Saturday evening as a very severe cyclonic storm with a maximum sustained speed of 205-215km per hour.”

DNA has reported (‘Odisha braces for Cyclone Phailin’): “The state government said it was making adequate preparation to deal with the disaster that expects to cause large scale devastation mostly in state’s coastal southern districts. Durga puja festivities in Odisha have been cancelled as the state prepares for Cyclone Phailin which could be the worst since 1999 when 10,000 people died. The Air Force, Navy and national disaster management team have already been put on stand-by, while the rapid action force has deployed its forces on the ground. People in the low lying areas of the state will be evacuated by Saturday evening.”

Floods in Pakistan displace 5.4 million

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A man carries a child through the flood waters in Digri, Sindh province. Southern Pakistan has been struck by severe monsoon floods 12 months after last year's devastating flood emergency that affected most of the country. Photo: IRIN / UNICEF Warrick Page

Torrential monsoon rains have triggered severe flooding in Pakistan, primarily in Sindh Province, Reliefweb has reported. Before the monsoon season began, forecasts predicted 10% below normal rains for Sindh and the southern parts of the country for the 2011 monsoon season. However, by 10 August, heavy rains began affecting districts of southern Sindh and extended to the northern regions of the province and adjoining areas of south Punjab and north-eastern Balochistan. While this spell lasted till mid-August, another more debilitating and sustained rain spell heavily affected areas across the entire Sindh Province from the end of August until 14 September. Concurrent impact in adjoining vast areas of Balochistan has resulted in serious humanitarian consequences including in South Punjab. In Sindh, the central and southern districts have been the worst affected.

These rains caused widespread breaches in the agricultural and saline water canals, particularly in the Left Bank Outfall Drain, which exacerbated flood impact in Badin, Mirpurkhas and Tharparkar districts, among others. Continued rains have seriously impeded delivery of emergency services and flood impacted mitigation works. Outflow of the draining flood water is compromised due to poor infrastructure and lack of maintenance of the drainage routes. Some parts of Karachi and Hyderabad have also experienced urban flooding. Flood waters are likely to stagnate in most of the affected regions for the foreseeable future.

As the monsoon season continues, the impact upon the population is intensifying with 5.4 million people affected to date. In Sindh, in particular, the concentration is most severe and all 23 districts have been affected to some degree. It is expected that the population will continue to be uprooted from their homes to seek refuge in the short term as more areas are affected. While some are housed in Government appointed shelters, more seek higher ground along bunds and roads. In Balochistan, five districts are affected and notified (considered seriously affected by the national authorities).The Government of Pakistan, through the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) and utilising the Armed Forces’ logistical capacity, has taken the lead in responding to the disaster with the deployment of rescue and life-saving relief operations.

IRIN News has reported that heavy monsoon rain in southern Pakistan is in many ways hitting children worst of all, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, which says five million people are affected. The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) says children are among the most vulnerable in the kind of situation that prevails now in Sindh Province: “Up to 2.5 million children have been affected by severe monsoon floods in southern Pakistan – and with many still recovering from the worst floods in the country’s history just a year ago, UNICEF says more help must reach them fast before the situation worsens.”

Media in Pakistan quoted disaster management authorities in Sindh as saying at least 270 people have been killed in the province’s 23 districts. The provincial government, which has called on international agencies to help, says 1.2 million homes have been washed away, while the aid agency Oxfam has reported that more than 4.2 million acres of land (1,699,680 hectares) has been flooded and 1.59 million acres (643,450 hectares) of standing crops destroyed in Sindh. It also warned the “situation could worsen” over the coming days.

“The nature of this disaster in some ways poses challenges that are more complex than those of 2010,” Kristen Elsby, a spokesperson for UNICEF, told IRIN from Islamabad. She said the main factor in this was that displaced populations were scattered, with many based along roadsides. “We did not know where to go when the rains swept in, took away our goats and destroyed the vegetable crop we had cultivated,” said Azrah Bibi from Badin District. She and her extended family of eight are currently camped along a roadside near the town of Badin. “We saw some people here and joined them. Some people delivered one lot of food, but there has been very little since, and it is hard to cook anyway since we have no facilities other than a fire from bits of timber and scrap,” she said.

Once again, people living in Sindh and nearby provinces have been hit by floods and forced to flee the waters. Photo: IRIN / Abdul Majeed Goraya

“Children, in particular, need access to clean water and also sanitation to prevent illness from breaking out.” Like many others affected by this year’s flood, Azrah Bibi and her husband, Gulab Din, 45, were also affected by the floods of 2010, widely rated as the worst in the country’s history, which partially damaged their home and also their rice crop. “This year things seem equally bad to me. The wrath of Allah has hit us twice,” she said.

Another IRIN report has said that Sindh is facing disaster once more with heavy rains over the past five days, according to the Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMA). “Two million people in 15 [out of 23] districts have been affected,” PDMA Director of Operations Sajjad Haider told IRIN. He also said crops had been devastated. Eighty-five people are reported to have died and provincial authorities have announced disaster relief measures, including compensation packages for victims. Haider said crops had been devastated.

“My sugarcane crop, which was ready for harvesting, has been lost. I am still recovering from last year’s losses of crops and livestock. Who knows what will happen now,” said Majeed-ud-Din, 40, from his village in Khairpur, one of the worst-hit districts. In the remote Kohistan District of Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa Province (KP) flash floods triggered by heavy rain last week are now confirmed by District Coordination Officer Syed Imtiaz Ali Shah as having killed at least 33 people. Media reports put the death toll at almost double that figure, with dozens of houses including an entire village swept away by torrents pouring down hillsides.

[See the earlier post, ‘Pakistan floods six months later’]

The UN Rapid Response Plan has said that in Sindh, of the approximately 5.44 million people affected, 49% are women. The number of deaths has increased to 223, of which 60 are women and 37 are children. To date, 665,821 family homes have been damaged or destroyed. Nearly 297,041 people (77,175 women, 139,661 children) are currently living in 2,150 relief sites.

The situation of the people who have been forced to leave their homes is dire, and there is clear evidence of growing humanitarian needs. People have sought refuge on higher ground, along roadsides and on bunds, while others are housed in public shelters. Access to safe drinking water is compromised, although health services are reaching out. Due to damaged infrastructure, however, it is difficult for the population to access existing services and efforts to avoid a major disease outbreak must continue. With an increasing number of people uprooted as a consequence of the situation, ensuring emergency shelter and food for the population is critical.

Across both provinces, Sindh and Balochistan, there has been a significant impact on people’s lives, especially related to the loss of livelihoods, most predominantly those related to agricultural activities. The UN Rapid Response Plan has said that approximately 80% of Sindh’s rural population’s livelihood is dependent upon agricultural activities, such as crops, livestock, fisheries and forestry. According to preliminary information from NDMA, 1.6 million acres of crop area have been destroyed by the floods, and pre-harvest crop losses include rice, vegetables, cotton, and sugarcane. The survival and health of animals in flood-affected areas are at risk due to loss of fodder reserves and animal feeds. These combined effects are likely to severely affect the availability of and access to adequate food for a large proportion of the affected population over the coming months.

The floodwaters have devastated towns and villages, washed away access routes, downed power and communications lines, and inflicted major damage to buildings. Many key roads and major bridges are damaged or destroyed. The prevailing socio-economic conditions along with flood have exacerbated the living conditions of women, men, boys and girls residing in the flood-affected districts. Additionally, female and children are not always able to access basic services or humanitarian aid. Vulnerable people in general are potentially experiencing a higher risk of disease, in addition to the challenges of limited access and mobility.