The Heat Is Online

Super-Cyclone Devastates East India

Troops Find Little Is Left in Indian Area Hit by Cyclone

By AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, The New York Times, Nov. 14, 1999

With flood waters beginning to recede, troops traveling by boat are just now reaching some of the worst-hit areas. Late Friday, they arrived in the county of Ambiki, the center of the disaster, and found little trace of six villages there that were once home to 3,000 people.

Ambiki, about four and half miles inland and 85 miles from Bhubaneshwar, the state capital, was littered with rotting bodies, one relief official said. "It seems Ambiki has very few survivors," he said. "It is a hellish sight."

The official added that one of the worst problems facing the troops was the presence of animal carcasses, "which are everywhere," he said. "The stench is heavy, and it is difficult to work."

The Press Trust of India said piles of bodies were being cremated in the area using diesel and kerosene and freshly broken branches.

One villager from Ambiki, who gave his name only as Sanatan, told the news agency that he feared for his brother, who had been missing since the storm. "I don't know if his body lies somewhere around," he said. "But even if it does, I can't even recognize it."

The toll from the cyclone, which began on Oct. 29 and has been described by some officials as the worst in the region this century, rose to 9,392 on Friday, officials said, including 8,119 deaths reported from Jagatsinghpur, which was at the heart of the storm.

The storm, which packed winds of more than 160 miles an hour, washed some bodies 15 miles inland as it churned up tidal waves. Officials warned that the death toll, high as it is, is expected to rise further.

"As areas are opening up, reports of more and more deaths are coming in," an official said.

The Orissa Disaster Mitigation Mission, an umbrella organization of scores of relief groups set up after the cyclone, has said the toll could exceed 20,000.

"We are not getting the clear picture, but rehabilitation work has now started wherever the water is receding," said Rajesh Singh, a spokesman for the crippled state administration.

[The Associated Press quoted relief workers as saying that thousands of people were suffering from burns caused by industrial chemicals that the cyclone had washed into the village ponds used for bathing. The officials said more than half of the survivors in dozens of villages around Kujang, 200 miles south of Calcutta, had developed boils, scars and red patches.

A team of experts traveled to the area Saturday to assess the impact of the pollution, the news agency said. "Doctors have advised patients to wash their bodies with clean water," said Ram Narayan, an official with the disaster mission. "But there is no clean water."]

The Times of India said the main opposition Congress Party, which leads the government in Orissa, might dismiss Chief Minister Girdhar Gamang because of a perceived failure to provide proper relief.

Defense Minister George Fernandes toured Orissa on Friday as the head of a federal task force coordinating relief measures after warnings that distribution bottlenecks were hampering relief work.

He said India's defense research wing was purifying waterways, which have been contaminated by rotting bodies of people and livestock. The adulteration of drinking wells with saltwater and the contamination of other sources has led to rampant gastroenteritis.

Tens of thousands of people remain cut off in isolated areas where little or no aid is getting through.

Orissa, which was already one of the poorest Indian states, now faces years of dependency on aid in one form or another.

The contamination of rice paddies by saltwater means farmers will have to wait two or three years before the yield from their fields returns to normal. The large loss of livestock and trees producing cash crops like cashews will be far harder to replace

Toxic wastes add to India cyclone toll

By Neelesh Misra, The Boston Globe, Associated Press, Nov. 14, 1999

BHUBANESWAR, India - Industrial chemicals spilled during India's devastating cyclone are spreading, causing hundreds of cases of acid burns among survivors, relief groups said yesterday.

The same toxic spills were halting the decomposition of bodies, human and animal, left by the disaster. At least 9,000 people were dead.

Most of the survivors in dozens of villages in the coastal Orissa state were suffering from boils and rashes after bathing in ponds turned black by pollution.

Yesterday, volunteers and soldiers recovered 73 bodies in the Bhadrak area along the coast, raising the official death toll to 9,465, according to the relief commissioner's office.

But casualty reports were yet to come from Kujang area, 200 miles south of Calcutta, where cases of acid burns were said to be quickly increasing.

Mahendra Parida of a children's relief agency working in the area said the acid pollutionhad spread in a 25-mile radius from Kujang. ''If we do not control it, it will spread to other areas with the flowing water,'' she said.

Specialists traveled to the area yesterday to assess the impact of the chemical spills, while doctors, already swamped treating gastrointestinal diseases caused by bad water, complained they lacked medicines to treat chemical burns.

The cyclone has affected more than 3.3 million children, many orphaned, separated from their families, or disabled. UNICEF and volunteer groups planned to find them homes.

Volunteers walked door to door to find out how many were orphaned or struggling for food and shelter, a UNICEF statement said. Children living alone would be asked with whom they wanted to live, and siblings would be kept together, the statement said.

''We fear that the problems of child sexual abuse, child begging, and child labor will flare up now,'' said Parida, coordinator of the Forum Against Child Exploitation, which will take part in the UNICEF campaign. Parida said the government had not made baby food available in the affected areas.

In the worst-affected Jagatsinghpur district, where more than 8,100 people have been officially declared dead so far, relief workers said acid spills had reduced the stench from decomposed bodies lying unattended.

''The bodies have become like Egyptian mummies. They have stopped decomposing or stinking,'' said Ram Narayan of the Orissa Disaster Mitigation Mission, a conglomerate of 40 Indian and international voluntary groups.

This story ran on page A30 of the Boston Globe on 11/14/99.
Copyright 1999 Globe Newspaper Company.

Super Cyclone Hits India, Thousands May Be Dead

DELHI, India, Nov. 1, 1999 (Environment News Service) - Thousands are feared dead and millions have been left homeless as the worst cyclone to hit India for 30 years swept the region on Friday. The cyclone, with winds of up to 260 kilometers per hour (161 mph), was the second to whip this impoverished area in two weeks. The port of Paradip in Orissa state sustained the worst of the storm.

he official death toll stands at 271. Unofficial reports have put the number of dead at more than 3,000, but officials say it will be days before an accurate count can be made.

Indian Home Minister Lal Krishna Advani said, "It is still not possible to assess the quantum of damage caused by the super cyclone. The intensity of this year's cyclone is unprecedented."

The storm, which struck at noon Friday, ripped through hundreds of thousands of houses in Orissa State, devastated crops and tore down power lines. Vast areas of land in Ganjam, Jagatsinghpur, Kendrapara, Puri and Bhubaneshwar districts are now under water.

Prime Minister Atal Vajpayee has declared the disaster in Orissa as a national calamity. The federal government has promised a grant of three billion rupees (US$69.3 million). This amount will supplement the US$59.5 million which the government awarded the area following the cyclone that hit the state two weeks ago.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Crescent Societies today appealed for four million Swiss francs to provide vital aid.

"Disaster relief experts from Delhi and Dhaka are already in Orissa with the Indian Red Cross assessing what is needed. So far we have seen thousands of families in desperate need of shelter, blankets, food and medicine, says Geoffrey Dennis, head of the Federation International Red Cross and Crescent in the region.

The government of India and the Red Cross are working to restore a clean water supply, but continuing heavy rains with gusty winds are hampering relief efforts. So far, the administration of the State of Orissa has been in no position to make a detailed assessment of the damage due to the weather conditions and the lack of communication facilities.

The industrial town of Cuttack has been severely damaged and the cyclone wiped out crops along a 140-kilometer stretch of the coast. Many villages in the path of the cyclone have been totally submerged.

According to information released by the overnment and by United Nations Development Programme in India, more than ten million people, that is about one third of the population, have been affected in eight districts of the state of Orissa. The entire coastal area of the state was severely hit. The Army has evacuated people to safer areas. Many people are camping out on the national highway which is raised a little above the submerged lands.

Authorities said food trucks had been stopped and looted in several areas, including the state capital Bhubaneshwar, where about 200,000 people are homeless. Soldiers are now standing guard over the food trucks to prevent further looting.

An army infantry division about 10,000 troops was put on emergency relief duty. Air force and naval helicopters normally used for high-altitude warfare were requisitioned to airdrop food packets. A field medical unit comprising 30 ambulances and 340 doctors and paramedics has left for Orissa.

No appeal for international assistance has been made for immediate post rescue and relief operations. However, international assistance will be accepted on humanitarian grounds

© Environment News Service (ENS) 1999. All Rights Reserved.

Help arrives for India's cyclone-hit millions

Reuters News Service, Nov. 2, 1999

PARADIP - Rescue and relief efforts cranked into action yesterday in eastern India where officials say a mammoth cyclone may have killed thousands and made more than a millionb homeless.

Trains carrying medical supplies and navy ships loaded with food headed for the state of Orissa, whose coast was hammered by a prolonged storm packing winds of up to 260 km (160 miles) per hour on Friday and Saturday.

Officials and media reports said up to 3,000 people may have died in the cyclone, the second to hit the poverty-stricken state in a month. But no official death toll or assessment of damage was available because road links to the worst affected areas have been cut.

"Relief operations are in full swing and we have requested all state governments to come forward and help," Agriculture Secretary Bhaskar Barua told reporters in the capital, New Delhi.

The government said in a statement that at least two million people in almost 2,000 villages had been affected. The worst hit were those living in urban slums, where flimsy shacks were flattened.

A senior state official said the confirmed death toll so far was 97, not including the Paradip port area which bore the brunt of the storm.

Navy ships bearing food, candles, clothes and other relief materials were heading towards Paradip.

But the help could not come quickly enough for thousands of desperate villagers who stopped vehicles on the road from Paradip and, wielding sticks, demanded food, drinking water and money.

Over the weekend, shops were looted for potatoes, flour and eggs, and the acute shortage of basic foods was exacerbated on Monday as terrified shopkeepers kept their shutters down.

Huge queues of cars and tracks snaked from petrol stations, where irate motorists argued over dwindling supplies of fuel.

The storm, which slammed into the coast after swirling threateningly in the Bay of Bengal, brought with it torrential rains, turning vast areas of farmland along the road between Paradip and the state capital, Bhubaneshwar, into lakes.


The bodies of humans and cattle floated in waterlogged paddy fields which had been almost ready for harvesting before the disaster struck.

Rain-bedraggled and scantily clad survivors wandered aimlessly along the roads, their homes reduced to rubble and their belongings washed away. Many set up makeshift shelters with tarpaulin and scraps of polythene sheeting.

The chairman of Paradip port, S. Mohapatra, told Reuters that 41 bodies had been found in the harbour and close to 50 fishing trawlers from the southern state of Andhra Pradesh had sunk.

He estimated the damage to the port at around 300 million rupees ($6.9 million). "We knew how bad it would be, but we didn't know long it would be. It went on for 36 hours," he said.

Mohapatra said protein-rich food, loaded in one of the cargo ships at Paradip, had been distributed among the villagers.

Abhay Oswal, managing director of Oswal Chemicals and Fertilisers, said the storm had severely damaged a di-ammonium phosphate plant, the largest of its kind in the world.

A train carrying 50 tonnes of medical supplies was on its way to cyclone-hit areas from New Delhi after rail lines linking Bhubaneshwar with the rest of the country were restored.

Telephone and power lines were partially restored, and Indian Airlines resumed flights to Bhubaneshwar, where the air traffic control system had been knocked out by the storm.

The Indian Meteorological Department said in a statement on Monday the storm had weakened into a low pressure area over the south coast of Orissa and the northern coast of neighbouring Andhra Pradesh. It forecast widespread rain and squalls and advised fishermen to exercise caution.

Story by Himangshu Watts

Cyclone victims burned en masse

Indian army mobilizes to reach outlying areas
Associated Press

PARADWIP, India, Nov. 4 — Funeral pyres of cyclone victims lit the night sky Thursday, and officials hastily collected corpses with little attempt to identify them amid efforts to rush desperately needed aid to ravaged areas.

Six days after eastern Orissa state was pounded by one of India's worst cyclones, officials had no way to estimate an accurate death toll.

Waterborne diseases were beginning to spread in regions where flooding during last Friday’s powerful cyclone turned farmlands into muddy lakes. Angry mobs looted aid trucks, robbed desperate survivors and fought over food.

Six days after eastern Orissa state was pounded by one of India’s worst cyclones, officials had no way to estimate an accurate death toll. Some stricken areas had not yet been reached.

A senior army officer involved in the rescue operation told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity the toll could reach 10,000 to 20,000. Other reports said the final count may not be as high as initially feared, although it would certainly be in the thousands.

Bulldozers scooped up bodies and loaded them onto trucks, where they were brought to the seashore for a mass cremation. Workers made no attempt to identify them.

"There are so many villages where no one lives any more," said Ajit Kumar Das, the elected head of a colony in this battered port city.

"I saw a 1½-year-old boy dead. The people from the municipality came in a truck, and one man picked up the boy and threw his body onto the truck. Some bodies were just thrown into the sea. No one cared whether we identify them or not."

Victims were laid out in rows and sometimes stacked together to save scarce firewood. The pyres burned through the night on the beach, as water lapped 50 feet away and torn bits of clothing flapped from where they were caught in trees near the shore.

More than 15 million people live in the area hit by the cyclone. The government has denied an epidemic is raging, but said it was very likely to develop.

The federal government flew in 3 million water purifying tablets and large quantities of medicines, but the private STAR TV reported that much of the stock was still in district headquarters. Relief workers, fearing they would be attacked by desperate villagers, were reluctant to venture into the vast rural areas, STAR TV reported.

Government and private agencies appealed in newspapers and on television for help from the public, saying the devastation was too huge for the government to handle alone.

"There are moments that beckon the entire nation to stand as one," said a front-page ad by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Cyclones strike India’s coasts every year, and the desperately poor are often their chief victims.

Last year, a cyclone and tidal wave in western India swept away up to 14,000 people — many of them destitute salt workers who lived beside the Arabian sea. In 1997, a storm submerged entire villages with 20-foot-high tidal waves, killing 3,000 people.

In 1968, a cyclone that whipped out of the Bay of Bengal further north in 1968 and slammed into the teeming city of Calcutta is said to have left half a million people homeless.

After Friday’s storm, at least 3,500 troops and airmen were deployed to bring food by air and sea to remote areas still inaccessible by road. Food was slowly beginning to reach parts of the state, newspapers reported. Health workers were distributing chlorine tablets, bleaching powder and oral rehydration solutions to some areas.

Officials said Wednesday it will take a month to fully restore power, weeks to repair the phone system, and days to fill the breaches in the national highway where aid convoys are stranded.

The economic damage could be in the billions of dollars.

© 1999 Associated Press. All rights reserved.