People affected by Cyclone Phailin wait to be rescued and receive relief supplies in the Balasore district of Odisha, yesterday.
New Delhi: Over 2,000 people have been rescued from coastal Odisha and Andhra Pradesh ravaged by tropical cyclone Phailin, the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) said yesterday.
Over 1,100 people have been rescued from Odisha, and more than a 1,000 have been shifted to safer places in Andhra Pradesh, a statement from the NDRF said.
In addition, 910km of roads have been cleared in Odisha and 180km in Andhra Pradesh.
“Our team is still working hard clearing roads, removing debris from damaged buildings and cutting and removing fallen electric poles and trees,” NDRF chief Krishna Chowdhary told reporters here yesterday.
“Our forces are still deployed in both the states, bringing relief and succour to people,” he said.
Hundreds of thousands of people who fled the strongest cyclone in 14 years returned home to scenes of devastation yesterday.
One million people were forced to seek refuge in shelters after the terrifying cyclone struck eastern India on Saturday, killing at least 22 people and leaving a trail of destruction along the coast.
Cyclone Phailin pounded the states of Orissa and to a lesser extent Andhra Pradesh, bringing winds of more than 200km an hour, uprooting trees, overturning trucks, and knocking out power lines.
“The death toll from the cyclone in Orissa has now gone up from 17 to 21. The deaths are mostly due to falling walls and tree branches,” Pradipta Kumar Mohapatra, the state’s special relief commissioner, said by phone. One person was also killed in Andhra Pradesh, officials have said.
Loss of life was minimised after one million people spent the night huddled in shelters, temples and schools during the ferocious storm, in what officials said was India’s largest ever evacuation operation.
President Pranab Mukherjee led a chorus of praise for the evacuation effort and the “high level of preparedness” as well as for the accurate forecasting of the country’s weather bureaus.
Relief agencies said government officials seemed to have learnt the lessons from 1999, when a cyclone tore through the same region, killing more than 8,000 people and devastating crops and livestock.
“The government and the community were more aware this time and better prepared, it was a collective effort and a successful one,” Manish Choudhary, a director of the Indian Red Cross Society, said.
Although some reluctant residents were threatened with prosecution if they did not evacuate on Saturday, others, recalling the trauma of 1999, packed into auto-rickshaws, trucks and buses and fled.
“The government didn’t help us at all (in 1999),” said Gopal Behra from Sunapur village in Orissa’s hardest-hit district of Ganjam.
“They came, took a cursory glance and left. They switched their phones off when we needed them the most. So we took things into our own hands and left the village,” he said.
Officials in Orissa said 873,000 people moved before the cyclone made landfall on Saturday evening, while at least another 100,000 were evacuated in Andhra Pradesh. Residents were also evacuated from coastal regions of West Bengal state.
Many returned home yesterday to discover their homes, many flimsy mud and thatch dwellings, and their businesses damaged or destroyed. Most were resigned to getting on with the job of rebuilding rather than waiting for rescue workers.
“I left everything (behind) and when I came back nothing was here,” said Bhagwan, 50, who uses one name, a coconut seller from the town of Gopalpur, as he sat on the ground in front of his destroyed shop.
Kishor Nayak crammed into a boat with dozens of others to reach his village across a swollen river from Sunapur hamlet. Villagers clutched shoes, clothes, food and other basic possessions in plastic bags.
“My house is flat. I have to go back and fix it now,” Nayak said. “There is no food either. My kids have been starving, crying,” he added.
Teams from the army’s National Disaster Response Force have fanned out across the region, clearing away fallen trees from roads, mangled power poles, and other debris in a huge relief operation, officials said.
Other relief workers distributed food at shelters and treated the injured, while authorities worked to restore power, water, communications and other services.
Choudhary from the Red Cross said 3,000 volunteers were distributing tents and other assistance to those left homeless, many of them poor farmers and fishermen, while the state government announced food assistance packages for affected families.
“Two lakh (200,000) houses have been damaged in Ganjam district alone in Orissa...these are mostly mud houses with thatched roofs,” said Tripti Paule a spokeswoman for the National Disaster Management Authority.
“The people living there are in shelters, we have the supplies and equipment ready to rebuild and will repair them once the rain stops, so people can return to their homes,” Paule said.
Although the cyclone has dissipated, heavy rain was falling in parts of Orissa and other states, raising fears of flooding.
Meanwhile, the coastguard yesterday rescued 18 sailors — 17 Chinese and an Indonesian — who had been drifting on a lifeboat since their cargo ship sank in the Bay of Bengal during the cyclone.