Cyclone Fani: Never Ending Storm

By Meredith Amodie, Audrey Bilello, Emily Fasulo, Natalie Houston, Victoria Loveless, Katherine Lyons, Mia Mascaro

Learning about the culture of India includes not only learning about their government or their cuisine, but their art. Indian art takes the form of numerous different themes and styles. One crucial inspiration for most Indian artists, however, is their religion of Hinduism. These beautiful art works demonstrated people and life around them in beautiful color and detail. Raghurajpur, a village out of the district of Puri, holds approximately 500 Chitrakar artists. These pattachitra painters are highly creative and meticulous, creating unique works which they bring to life with color and precision. Each of the households in this village holds one skilled Chitrakar. Pattachitra is a very traditional style of art, being painted on objects such as scrolls, palm leaves, paper, etc. It is well known for holding intricate details that bring mythological folktales to life. Indian Art started to boost the economy during the decade of the 90’s, artists from various fields started to represent a variety of art styles. New and unheard of genres of art were brought to surface by artist Devajyoti Ray, who introduced “Pseudorealism”. Pseudorealism was a completely original style of art which was entirely developed on Indian soil. This period following the storm led to a rebirth of art in Indian culture and how it impacted the community. When the slate is wiped clean, it is time to start fresh. 

Pattachitra map painting of a Puri Temple by Oshida artist in 1880 (Map Academy)

In terms of a rebirth, they are planned for much more than we typically expect.  Beyond the religious symbolism, the government has a responsibility to play a role in preparing and reacting to the storm. Governments can respond to natural disasters in two ways. They can emphasize disaster relief or try to prevent disasters in the first place (NY Times). Due to the cyclone that hit Odisha in 1999, the government was prepared to the best of their abilities for cyclone Fani. Since 1999, Odisha’s governments, with help from the World Bank and India’s federal government, built an impressive disaster response machinery, including a State Disaster Management Authority. Government agencies developed a system for disseminating timely information, critical for timely evacuations. They have created a large number of cyclone shelters, expanding the number from 21 in 1999 to about 900 shelters in 2019. This abundance of shelters ensured that everyone who could be threatened by a cyclone was within 1.5 miles of a shelter. About 15,000 school buildings have been constructed or retrofitted to serve as temporary shelters (Dolšak and Prakash). The Odisha’s government compared to the United States government was much more prepared when a disaster hit. Hurricane Kartina was a category 5 hurricane that hit the coastal areas of the Gulf Coast states of Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi, including the city of New Orleans on August 29th, 2005 (Weather). An hour before the hurricane hit New Orleans, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, who administers the system of levees and floodwalls in and around New Orleans, received a report that the levees of the 17th Street Canal, the city’s largest drainage canal, had been breached. However, the levee failures weren’t a complete surprise. For many years before Hurricane Katrina, emergency officials, scientists, and journalists had been worrying about what could happen if a major hurricane were to hit New Orleans (History). This goes to show that the aftermath of Hurricane Kartina didn’t have to be so devastating if the United States government took accountability and listened to the emergency officials, scientists, and journalists and checked the levees prior to a major storm hitting. The Odisha’s government and the United States government played different roles during their individual disasters.

The formation of Cyclone Fani began on April 26th, 2019, in the Indian Ocean, where it was originally labeled as a tropical storm; this storm was due to extreme global warming, as well as depressions that developed in the Bay of Bengal. The storm made landfall early Friday, May 3rd, with winds equivalent to a Category 4 hurricane. Since the Odisha cyclone hit in 1999, India has implemented updated and secure protocols for disaster relief. These protocols helped aid them in evacuating and protecting people during Cyclone Fani. Due to India’s effective meteorological department, they were able to accurately depict when Cyclon Fani was going to hit and at what magnitude. This department allowed the government to be aware of the severity of the storm as soon as possible. “Roughly 2.6 million text messages were sent to locals in clear language before cyclone Fani hit, keeping those potentially affected alert. Regular press briefings were made by officials to update people of the approaching cyclone. People were repeatedly advised over all forms of media not to panic and given clear do and don’ts” (Quartz). Clear communication was key to India’s record-breaking evacuation, 1.2 million people were evacuated in just two days. In addition, these people were not just evacuated and left to fend for themselves, seven thousand kitchens and nine thousand shelters were made available overnight for survivors. Although Cyclone Fani was proving to be very powerful, the control the UNDRR (the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction) had over the disaster relief was able to minimize the damages and casualties of the storm. 

Odisha was the most severely impacted region of India when the Fani Cyclone made landfall there. The storm caused significant damage and fatalities in Bangladesh before moving to other states of India. (Dhyani). The storm caused deaths, the devastation of houses, and the flooding of towns and villages as it unleashed rainfall and winds with gusts of up to 130 mph (Cyclone Fani damage, loss, and needs assessment).  Conditions became more favorable for Fani on April 30th. Once the Fani Cyclone made landfall, strong aftereffects were noted in several Indian states. Odisha was the state most severely damaged, with a total estimated cost of 120 billion rupees (about $460 million USD). Homes, governmental structures, religious sites, and educational facilities have all been destroyed by this enormous hurricane. In India there were 508,467 homes affected. 189,095 kutcha (temporary houses) were damaged in Puri. Over 13,000 dwellings in Bangladesh were demolished or damaged. Major effects on the farming, fishing, and agricultural industries included destroyed crops, missing or dead animals, lost fishing boats, and lost fishing nets. In India, about 38 million livestock, mostly poultry, were killed. The main coconut industry in India is located along the shore, and trees were uprooted from their roots. (Cyclone Fani). Damage to Puri’s most famous temple, Jagannath Temple, necessitated repairs that cost over 51 million rupees ($630,000 USD). In addition to endangering the animals’ lives, this terrible disaster also seriously damaged the ecosystem. The state of Andhra Pradesh suffered a loss of over 586.2 million rupees ($620,000 USD) despite not experiencing such severity. The government of India, according to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has provided the Fani-affected states subsidies of more than ten billion rupees ($120 million USD) (Dhyani). 

During cyclone Fani, government authorities in Odisha, along India’s eastern flank, hardly stood still. They warned people of what was coming, they deployed everything they had: 2.6 million text messages, 43,000 volunteers, nearly 1,000 emergency workers, television commercials, coastal sirens, buses, police officers, and public address systems blaring the same message on a loop, in local language, in very clear terms: “A cyclone is coming. Get to the shelters” (NY Times). Odisha evacuated about 1.4 million people to more than 900 of their cyclone shelters, in a timely way. Only about 70 people died which was a fraction of those at risk. Its efforts have drawn international praise (Dolšak and Prakash). India’s coast guard and navy deployed ships and helicopters for relief and rescue operations on Friday. Air force units and the army are also on standby in vulnerable states (CNN). The Odisha’s government took as much control as possible while the cyclone was striking their home. Whereas when Hurricane Kartina hit New Orleans, many people were outraged at the slow rate it took the federal government to meet the needs of the people affected by the storm. 

Multiple sources have suggested that Cyclone Fani is one of the worst cyclones to ever hit throughout history.  Perhaps this assessment comes from the damages that resulted on the land, perhaps it is based on the number of casualties, maybe it is based solely on their understanding of classification and wind speeds. To the typical person, a cyclone that reached the same classification of a Category 4 hurricane would rightfully be ranked as one of the “worst” cyclones to ever hit landfall.  However, we offer an alternative dilemma for folks to consider in terms of a cyclone’s effect.  Looking beyond the title of “third worst cyclone” to exist in our current history we are met with the serious ramifications of a government that properly provided for their citizens to the best of their abilities, but still being unable to protect the land from the continuous rage that the coastal regions will fall victim to.  According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), climate change and the warming of the water does not tell us that there will be more tropical cyclones, but rather the worry is that the cyclones that occur will now be more intense, so areas that have come accustomed to certain storm warnings and effects, will be met with new challenges for their families, homes, and businesses (Nat India).  This means that before the country and districts are able to begin rebuilding, more cyclones will continue to hit with the same strength, forcing people to reconsider their plan of action and where they are living.  Not to mention, the effects on the climate specifically surrounding India comes from the industrialization of the land from foreign entities.  The coastal affects the country is currently facing comes from a line of capitalists using India for their resources, but then leaving them to fend for themselves in times  of need, such as Cyclone Fani. Similarly, although an unexpected disaster, the people of India were given less than a year to rebuild their lives from the rubble before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. After countries continued to put quarantines in place, many Indian citizens found themselves not having  a home to quarantine in.  This resulted in many Indian citizens getting the virus and fighting against the virus while trying to keep others safe. Yet, similarly to when the cyclone hit, once the government was able to begin finding a solution for the people, it was never withheld.  As of October 21st, 2021 India had administered its billionth dose of the Covid vaccine, continuing to strengthen the country (The Enterprise).  From the rise of Covid the country has still been hit with the typical number of cyclones they expect every year, only now with higher winds, more expected damage, as well as the concern of catching a virus while remaining in the shelters the government has in place.  To describe Cyclone Fani as one of the worst cyclones we have seen as a society does not seem fair for a multitude of reasons, however, it could be argued that Cyclone Fani began a chain of damages that would be continuously tested by illness, weather, economics, and whatever else continues to be thrown at India. 

While it is understood that the government played a tremendous role in taking care of the people of India throughout these trying times, there is always an after for each individual person and the country as a whole. With some many different districts affected, it was clear that international support would be required in the aftermath of the storm. This led to the typical suspects making their way to towns and cities that are experiencing loss, devastation, and memories that can not be fixed with one group of paramedics or religious groups coming to aid them with food and shelter. World Vision was one of many responders to come and help with recovery efforts, however, this comes with the cost of Christian missionaries coming to towns and cities whose local religion is different from theirs (World Vision). These missionaries come offering clothes and food, but ultimately stay in order to spread their messages and understandings of God. This allows for the further justification that “God has a plan” and this storm was simply a part of the plan, losing your home, losing your art is a part of this plan. Insult is only added to injury when the further implications are added that COVID struck there and because of the storms damage, as opposed to other countries opening their arms and continuing to support India, they were treated as expendable, simply because they could not protect themselves from the virus as a result of the storm. And more importantly, the world did not stop and wait for India to recover. The world turned, storms formed, and the people tried to move on, build houses, come to terms with deaths, come to terms with a potential plague all while being told by outsiders that this was “God’s plan” for them.  The people of India, especially those of smaller districts and towns still continue to suffer from the effects of Cyclone Fani. 

This Damage, Loss, and Needs Assessment (DLNA) of the Cyclone Fani in Odisha was conducted between 24 May and 4 June 2019 by Government of Odisha in collaboration with the United Nations, World Bank, and ADB (Prevention Web). After cyclone Fani, the Odisha government announced financial assistance for families that were affected and relief packages (Outlook India). Their government’s priority was to assist the people affected and then fix up their state from the aftermath of cyclone Fani. After Hurricane Katrina hit, officials, even including President George W. Bush, seemed unaware of just how bad things were down in New Orleans. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) took days to establish operations in New Orleans, and even then did not seem to have a sound plan of action (History). Only a week and a half after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, the FEMA Director Michael Brown resigned. And it took two weeks for the president to make his first appearance down in New Orleans (Politico). It was upsetting to see how unprepared the United States government was when Katrina hit considering all the factors that they were well aware of before the hurricane. Some factors include being made aware of the hurricane days in advance, the poor structure of the levees, and more than half the city being below sea level. Although Cyclone Fani and Hurricane Katrina were extremely different events, both governments acted differently before, during, and after. 

“A woman of Raghurajpur village shows her artwork that was damaged in the cyclone in Puri.” (The Hindu)

The storm’s aftermath revealed the defacing of the village of Raghurajpur. The once-established and alluring artistic village that drew in tourism with its priceless Patachitra paintings was left devastated.  One article explaining the aftermath of the storm states, “Raghurajpur, home of Odisha’s famous Pattachitra art, is a village ruined, priceless pieces of art washed away by the cyclone that stormed through the state on May 3. Just four coconut trees standing upright after the storm that was, still strong and unbending, quite like the people of this famed crafts village, despairing but resilient as they come to terms with the destruction Cyclone Fani left in its wake” (NationalHerald).  The tourism in this village supported the artist’s livelihoods; as this was destroyed it could have been easy for them to become disheartened, yet they were accepting of the damage of the storm and tried to remain optimistic. This hope of reestablishing, however, only lasted a brief time before a global pandemic struck. COVID-19 had vast damaging impacts, but the restriction of travel was one that caused further injury to the village of Raghurajpur. The conjunction of Cyclone Fani’s aftermath and COVID-19 caused the historical art pieces to be destroyed and forgotten, and the prestige of the artistic village was left overlooked in the wake. 

Catastrophes are often remembered through art; whether it be through literature, paintings, sculptures, performances, or other expressive works. Cyclone Fani was a sardonic storm as it destroyed art and then led to the creation of more art in the storm’s remembrance. Even though priceless Patachitra paintings and countless cultural artistic pieces were destroyed by the storm and COVID-19 ceased global tourism to the village, the people of Raghurajpur were determined to remember these catastrophes and rebuild their village’s historic reputation. One effort to renovate and remember is through Odisha’s Sand Art Festival. This is an annual festival that draws artists from all over the country to participate in the construction of elaborate sand art.  Through this art form, people of diverse backgrounds have expressed meaningful themes, some of which include remembering Cyclone Fani and its impacts. The remembrance of this tragic storm through art paired with the rise of tourism brought in by the festival has helped the artists of Raghurajpur overcome the damage suffered from the storm and pandemic. 

Sand art created by Sudarsan Pattnaik at Odisha’s 2021 Sand Art Festival (ZeeNews)

There is a sense of irony in using a Sand Art festival to remember the catastrophe of Cyclone Fani. Sand is a volatile medium that can be moved and changed unpredictably; it can easily be washed away and the shape it once held can be forgotten. Odisha’s Sand Art Festival uses sand as the medium of art through which diverse and talented artists create their works, often which portray a theme of remembering Cyclone Fani. It is almost paradoxical that a medium so unstable is used in artwork that remembers the tragic storm that ultimately “washed away” a very well-known artist village. One example of this was demonstrated prior to Cyclone Fani when artist Sudarsan Pattnaik created a sculpture that warned individuals to stay safe and remain calm. This artwork could serve as an effigy for the volatility of sand, as it was created prior to a storm that was about to wash the sand art away. 

Sand Art created by Sudarsan Pattnaik prior to Cyclone Fani in 2019 (TimesNow)

We acknowledge that sometimes, when a tragedy hits close to home, we tend to only care about it since it directly impacts our own lives, our families, our country, etc. Likewise, we realize that other countries provide aid on a worldwide scale, but it’s not always clear whether they do so out of genuine concern or to project a positive image. We may also look at how other nations serve their citizens, such as the contrast between India’s response to Cyclone Fani and the United States’ response to Hurricane Katrina. As a society we have denounced cyclones to being a “lesser” level of storm, but as we continue to deal with the consequences of global warming we are forced to look at, not only how we categorize storms, but how we move past the damages. The news of Cyclone Fani barely hit the American News organizations and those that it had impacted, wrote only one or two paragraphs on wind speeds and death tolls. Storms are more than the place they hit in our ranking system and the amount of people they take away from us. The lack of knowledge on Cyclone Fani, the fact there are still people in India today that are without a home because of the storm matters. The ethnocentrist tells tales of Katrina and its devastation. The horror that resulted from the storm is undeniable, but just because Hurricane Katrina negatively impacted us, does not mean we immediately lose the ability to be empathetic towards other countries when they struggle in the wake and aftermath of storms. Despite the tragedies that many faced as a result of Cyclone Fani and then COVID-19 striking immediately after, their prayers of rebuilding did not go unanswered. The Odisha’s Sand Art Festival was not only used to remember the tragic storm, but was also successful in drawing in tourists from all around the world to participate in the creation of sand art, or to observe the beautiful and meaningful artwork. This helped many of the local artists as tourism supported their income, and furthermore helped return the prestige of the artistic village. 

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