Imagine that a cyclone is coming, but that those living in the affected areas do nothing or too little to protect themselves. This is precisely what happened in the coastal state of Orissa, India. Individuals and communities living in regions where natural hazards are a part of daily life develop strategies to cope with and adapt to the impacts of extreme events. In October 1999, a cyclone killed 10,000 people according to government statistics, however, the unofficial death toll is much higher. This article examines why such a large loss of life occurred and looks at measures taken since then to initiate comprehensive disaster-preparedness programmes and to construct more cyclone shelters. The role of both governmental organisations and NGOs in this is critically analysed. The good news is that, based on an assessment of disaster preparedness during a small cyclone in November 2002, it can be seen that at community-level awareness was high and that many of the lessons learnt in 1999 were put into practice. Less positive, however, is the finding that at the state level collaboration continues to be problematic.