Vol. 9, No. 1 January- March 2003

Back to Contents
Editor's Corner
From the Grassroots
ADPC Programs & Activities
Training & Education
             News from the
Book Review
WWW Sites



Orissa Super Cyclone, 1999: A Case of Inadequate Warning

On October 29, 1999, a very high intensity cyclone (measuring seven on the Beaufort scale) struck the State of Orissa, India taking more than 10,000 lives and causing property damages worth US $1.35 billion. The cyclone referred to as "super cyclone" as per the India Meteorological Department (IMD) classification (i.e. sustained wind speed measuring more than 221km). It was one of the worst ever to strike the region. It was first detected when at its low pressure stage over the gulf of Siam by the IMD cyclone surveillance system on the morning of October 24, five days before it made landfall. During this period, the IMD through its cyclone warning division monitored its movement and issued forecast about its landfall time, location and disseminated warnings to that effect. The first Alert Bulletin was issued at 0300 UTC on October 27 and the first warning was given as early as 1200 UTC of the same day. As many as two alerts and eleven cyclone warnings were issued before the cyclone, which were widely disseminated through public media such as radio, television, newspapers etc. However, in spite of warnings when the cyclone finally struck, it took more than 10,000 lives. And now it is known that not many in the affected areas had heeded to the warnings and taken protective measures by evacuating. The question is: why did it happen and why did not people respond to the warning the way it was anticipated?

There are several reasons for this. Firstly, the warnings which were given failed to discriminate between a low-intensity frequently occurring hazards and a high-intensity rare event thus failing to communicate the severity of the hazard. Orissa experiences cyclones on a regular basis and records for thirty years prior to the super cyclone (from 1970 to 1999) indicate that as many as 12 cyclones of varying intensity struck the state. However except for the cyclone of October 26-30, 1971 (landfall point near Paradip and death toll of 10,000) none of these could be compared to the 1999 super cyclone in terms of loss of human life and devastation. Moreover it is an established fact that high intensity cyclone occur only once in two-three decades. Under such circumstances, the warnings for the super cyclone was perceived by majority of people as normal. What worsened the situation was the occurrence of a less-intensity cyclone in the state barely 10 days before the super cyclone on October18 near Gopalpur, which claimed 97 lives and caused large scale property damages. An absence of pre-disaster plan and appropriate communication strategy were the main reasons for the tremendous loss from the super cyclone. People relied on past experiences to make judgments about the severity of the hazard.

Though people were warned about the location of the cyclone landfall (Puri and Balasore), they were not told which areas were at most risk within and were unable to estimate the severity of the cyclone. The confusions compounded for those who were not in the immediate vicinity of coast. The crucial aspect of personalizing the danger was absent from all the warning that was disseminated. The lack of disaster preparedness in the state prior to super cyclone meant no mock drill had been undertaken. All the operational shortcomings in the warning system came to the fore only at the time of crisis. What is important now is the recognition of the fact that every cyclone in the future would be taken seriously. Unless such issues are addressed, warning services would remain as ineffective as it was during Orissa super cyclone.

Biswanath Dash is a Research Student at Centre for Studies in Science Policy, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. He can be contacted at biswanathdash@indiatimes.com 

Newsletter Disaster Links ADPC Home

Partnerships Development and Information Research Division
Asian Disaster Preparedness Center
P.O.Box 4, Klong Luang, Pathumthani 12120, Thailand.
Tel: (66-2) 516-5900 to 10; Fax: (66-2) 524-5360; E-mail: