Cyclone Fani slammed into Northeast India on Friday May 3rd with heavy rainfall and winds of up to 127 miles per hour, leaving at least 38 people dead in Odisha, hundreds injured and thousands without homes.
Death tolls were relatively low since over 1 million people were evacuated from about 15,000 villages and 46 towns in Odisha in preparation for the Cyclone.
The sacred city of Jagannath Puri was one of the worst hit, with 25 deaths. According to ISKCON devotee Madhavananda Das, who runs Gopal Jiu Publications from Puri, no ISKCON devotees were killed or seriously injured.
The ISKCON center in Puri, known as Bhakti-Kuti, is the Bhajan Kutir of Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura and also features a temple for Sri Sri Radha Giridhari and Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. Many of its windows were broken in the cyclone, but otherwise the temple emerged intact.
The roof of ISKCON’s small farm property in nearby Bhubaneshwar was destroyed and several cows injured, although the Bhubaneshwar ISKCON temple itself was unscathed. Devotees there have a generator, and are providing well water for local people.
Gopal Jiu Publications, an ISKCON project that publishes the Sri Kathamrita magazine, Sri Kathamrita Bindu and the books of Goura Govinda Swami, saw the entire front of its second floor ripped off.
Madhavananda Das and his wife Krishnakund Dasi, who run the project and accompanying ashram, survived the storm, which they describe as a terrifying experience.
“The wind started at about 6am, and the power went off at 7,” Madhavananda says. “The storm really started hitting at about 9 or 10am, and lasted some three hours. It was the most intense thing I’ve ever been through in my life.
“Srila Prabhupada’s disciple Bhaktarupa Prabhu stays downstairs, and my wife and I were upstairs. The water started pouring in from the balcony, and the drain wasn’t working well, so I had to keep going out to try to unplug it. It was very frightening. The wind sounded at first like a train, then like a power drill. Things were just flying through the air everywhere – rooftops, metal siding. I could hear the sounds of glass breaking and people shouting.
“One of our rooms had glass windows and doors. I could see it bulging, straining at the seams. I went downstairs to get one of the devotees to help us, and as we came back up, all of a sudden the whole wall just exploded and the storm came in. A door flew at me and slammed into my head, almost knocking me out.
“At that moment, I didn’t know if we were going to live. We realized we’d better start chanting very seriously.”
By Lord Jagannath’s mercy, Madhavananda and Krishnakund remained safe. A few cases of Srila Prabhupada’s books for distribution were destroyed, along with some Gopal Jiu Publications books. However, most books, including rare volumes for a planned Gaudiya Oriya Research Association, were saved.
Although many roads in Puri were blocked by fallen trees and protestors demanding more government aid, and public transport was almost completely shut down, Madhavananda and his wife managed to escape Puri and fly to London.
Before doing so, they surveyed some of the damage in the area. The roof was ripped off of Srila Narayan Maharaja’s Shri Damodar Gaudiya Math, and the upper windows shattered, although all the devotees there were okay.
The Gopinath Gaudiya Math lost the roof of its goshala, and its kitchen was destroyed.
The boundary wall of the Tota Gopinath temple, whose presiding Deity was found by Chaitanya Mahaprabhu Himself, was reduced to rubble, and the temple’s garden, which contained many trees from Mahaprabhu’s time, was decimated. The temple and Deity, as well as the priests, however, were unharmed.
One of the walls of the Sonar Gouranga temple had also collapsed. Puri’s famous Jagannath Mandir sustained minor damage – one of the lions at the gate was broken, while one of the Jaya and Vijaya deities guarding the entrance had been knocked to the ground and smashed.
“There were fishermen’s boats everywhere – they had been tossed around like pieces of paper,” says Madhavananda. “Buses were knocked over on their side by the wind. It looked like Jagannath Puri had been bombed.”
Power is still down in Puri, and although there are government shelters, many are saying they have not been fed. Fortunately trucks from Akshaya Patra, a charity food distribution organization run by Madhu Pandit Dasa’s ritvik group, have been spotted in the area and are likely distributing prasadam to the needy.
Madhavananda hopes that ISKCON will also mobilize a prasadam distribution operation. “In 1999, when a super cyclone hit, the Bhubaneshwar temple served out a huge amount of prasadam,” he says. “So I hope they do that again.”
Despite the destruction and hardship, the people of Puri, according to Madhavananda, remain surprisingly upbeat.
“Their mood is the old Oriyan saying, ‘Jagannath anka iccha,’” he quotes. “Whatever Lord Jagannath desires.”