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After having managed to do the seemingly the unthinkable by evacuating a whopping nine lakh people ahead of cyclone Phailin, the Naveen Patnaik government has been caught off guard by Phailin-induced flash floods in four northern Odisha districts.As the Subarnarekha, Budhabalanga and Baitarani rivers swelled menacingly and inundated vast areas in Mayurbhanj, Balasore, Bhadrak and Jajpur districts, the government was literally caught napping. Special Relief Commissioner (SRC) Pradiota Kumar Mohapatra, the man largely credited with the successful evacuation effort before the cyclone, admitted as much when he told reporters on Tuesday that the administration was taken by surprise at the rate which the rivers swelled.Till 9 am on Sunday, the morning after Phailin hit land near Gopalpur, things were normal. But within barely three hours, the waters of Budhabalanga had inundated Baripada town, the headquarters of Mayurbhanj district, he said.While the SRC may have a point about the speed at which the river went in spate, there was nothing really surprising about heavy rains in northern Odisha and the floods that would inevitably follow. The India Meteorological Department (IMD), which deservedly got fulsome praise for predicting both the course and the intensity of the cyclone accurately, was also predicting heavy rains in northern Odisha and Jharkhand all along. But the government was so focused on the cyclone that it lost focus of the surging water levels in the northern Odisha rivers.The level of preparedness or rather the lack of it for floods can be gauged by the fact that water from Budhabalanga inundated the Baripada district hospital, including its ICU and childrens wards. Critical patients were shifted to the first floor with great difficulty by hospital staff.In neighbouring Balasore district, thousands of people had no option but to shift out from their homes in a hurry with whatever belongings they could lay their hands on, and take shelter along the National Highway No 60 connecting Kolkata.Even two full days after the rains stopped, a population of nearly 68, 000 spread over 647 villages in Balasore still remain marooned. With air dropping of food packets stopped after just one day on account of heavy wastage, the water-locked people went without food for two days and more.Central Range Revenue Divisional Commissioner (RDC) Arabinda Padhee, one of the best officers of the government, who was rushed to take charge of the grim flood situation in Balasore told Firstpostthat the situation had improved considerably in the last 24 hours with the water level in Subarnarekha going below the danger level of 10.30 meters for the first time in three days. We have dispensed with the services of the army units since it is now possible to reach villages through boast and in some cases by roads, he said.But Padhee did admit that many of the 68, 000 people marooned on Tuesday still remained stranded on Wednesday. He also conceded that the impending full moon (one Saturday) had considerably slowed down discharge of river water into the sea. If there is a fresh spell of rain in the upper reaches, the situation could worsen again, he said.What makes the Naveen governments failure in meeting the relatively lesser threat of floods glaring is the fact that floods are an annual occurrence in Odisha. In recent times, the state has had to face not one, but two, three or even more spells of floods. And the current flood is too miniscule to be compared with the floods faced by the state in 2011, 2008 or 2001.What saved the day for the government is the fact that there have been no floods in the Mahanadi system, which is the lifeline of the state as well as the source of misery for millions of people living on the banks of the mighty river that originates in the Amarkantak hills in neighbouring Chhattisgarh or its branches.Real havoc is caused in the state when the Mahanadi is in spate. With the Hirakud reservoir, which controls the flow of Mahanadi water into the mainland, full to the brim, a flood in Mahanadi had the potential to undo all the good work that the government had done in meeting the challenge posed by Phailin.Millions of people in central Odisha thanked their stars that the IMD, which hit Bulls Eye with its prediction on the cyclone, was proved wrong for once in predicting heavy rains in Chhattisgarh, which would have certainly proved disastrous.

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