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Hope on the highway

india Updated: Sep 22, 2008 23:58 IST
Soumyajit Pattnaik
Soumyajit Pattnaik
Hindustan Times
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The familiar scenes of the Bihar floods are being repeated in Orissa.

Nearly 30,000 people in coastal Orissa’s Puri district have taken shelter on the Puri-Bhubaneswar National Highway 203, with whatever belongings — including cattle — they could save from the floods.

The government faces a tough task starting relief operations, as the set-up is not quite sufficient to cope with a disaster of such magnitude. Puri district has not witnessed such devastation except during the super-cyclone of 1999.

The Bhargavi and the Daya, which originate from Kuakhai, a branch of the Mahanadi, have flooded new areas in the district close to Pipili, which is famous for appliqué works.

Men and cattle are now jostling for space on the roads. The protection of the polythene sheets, doled out by the government, proves to be too feeble against the incessant rains. Only a few relief vehicles have arrived so far, only to be greeted by long queues everywhere.

Floodwaters have breached the highway nearly 32 km from Bhubaneswar, affecting more than 600 villages in the district. While in Kendrapara district, the embankments were breached on Friday night, Puri district fell to the floods early on Sunday morning.

However, the extent of damages could not be ascertained as boats could arrive only on Monday morning to reach out to the affected people.

Purna Chandra Sahu, 60, of Nirmala village under Pipili police station is now camping with his 10 family members on the highway. Sahu told Hindustan Times: “There is no food, no drinking water and no polythene to protect ourselves from the rains. We paid heeded to the warnings and came here yesterday. Many people are still trapped in our village.”

Ranju Pradhan of Nuagadi village of Teishipur panchayat said, “We have come to take shelter on NH-203 since 9 am on Sunday. Till now, we have not got anything. Our house collapsed and we have lost everything.”

Some youths have, however, managed to swim to safety from the marooned villages. Bishnu Prasad Sahu and his three friends, after waiting in vain for rescue boats to arrive in Nirmala village, finally swam about 2 km to reach the highway. Sahu said, “We will go back to our village with relief boats. At least, 300-350 persons are still trapped in our village.”