On the afternoon of 30 July, I stood atop a watchtower inside the Chandaka–Dampara wildlife sanctuary, gazing at the recently transformed landscape. “We were not able to see them,” Brahmanand Behera, a member of the sanctuary’s anti-poaching squad, told me, pointing to trees in the distance. “Not even the mountains, nor those factories. But then, Fani came and took away all the trees surrounding this tower.” As per the estimates of Odisha’s forest department, 111,724 trees were destroyed inside the sanctuary due to Cyclone Fani, which hit coastal Odisha in May.
It was the peak of summer, and warnings of an imminent cyclone had already been issued. The state government took its customary precautions, moving people off the coast to shelter. On 3 May, along with the overcast conditions came the wind, howling louder and louder as the day progressed, taking down trees, hoardings, walls and roofs, twisting and turning the electricity and telephone poles at will. Fani is said to be the worst cyclone to hit India since the super-cyclone of 1999, which killed nearly ten thousand people in Odisha.
For the people of Odisha, the shocking memory of that unusual summer gradually faded. The government has managed to restore electricity, mobile networks and transportation services. Yet, it is impossible to reinstate millions of trees overnight.