Food riots broke in the port city of Visakhapatnam on Tuesday as hundreds of people looted relief trucks in a scramble for drinking water, milk, vegetables and petrol following massive shortages two days after a cyclone battered the eastern coast.
People fled with enormous sacks of food grain and police used batons to disperse the crowd as Andhra Pradesh’s biggest city struggled to pick up the pieces after Cyclone Hudhud, which killed 22 people in three north coastal districts.
The cyclone has damaged several sub-stations and uprooted thousands of electricity poles, making it next to impossible for officials to restore power. Tuesday was the fourth consecutive day in Visakhapatnam – known popularly as Vizag -- without power.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who visited the storm-hit city, announced a Rs 1,000-crore relief package for Andhra Pradesh, where thousands of people were forced to leave their homes.
“For people of Visakhapatnam, please give drinking water and other essential commodities. I have not seen such a terrible situation in my life,” a resident pleaded with folded hands as people mobbed relief officials and ransacked supplies.
Women with children in their arms searched for milk and serpentine queues were seen outside petrol stations in Vizag which bore the brunt of the cyclone’s fury.
Prices of essential commodities leapt because of the shortages. “Drinking water and milk costing Rs 20 each are being sold for Rs 50 as black-marketeers are having a field day,” said another angry resident.
Long queues were seen at fuel stations for the second straight day, despite government assurances that there was enough fuel to last a fortnight. Many had to wait in line for the better part of the day to get fuel, procured at erratic prices. While Lattu Chanti, an auto driver, got diesel at Rs 64 per litre, ME Krishna, a railway employee, had to pay Rs 100 per litre for petrol.
Hundreds lined up outside ATMs too, since cash hadn’t been filled up at several centres with the bank network down. Only a few branches were providing partial services.
The famous King George Hospital is also in shambles with authorities forced to discharge patients lodged in wards damaged by Hudhud.
The cyclone hit near the city on Sunday with heavy rains and wind speeds of 185 kilometres per hour.
Chief minister N Chandrababu Naidu urged the Centre to treat the devastation caused by the storm as a “national calamity”. “We will rebuild this city and the confidence of its people,” he said.
Watch:Hudhud leaves Andhra, Odisha in tatters
After visiting parts of the worst-affected port city and a review meeting with Naidu and top officials, Modi told reporters at Vishakapatnam, "The Centre is fully with the people of Andhra pradesh. Both governments are working hand in hand."
Modi, who made an aerial survey of the affected areas of both north coastal Andhra and Odisha, also declared Rs. 2 lakh from Prime Minister's Relief Fund for families of each of those killed and Rs. 50,000 to every injured.
Naidu said, "Some people are selling essential items at high prices. It is not fair to try to exploit the situation. We have taken a decision to provide packages of food items in all cyclone-hit areas."
Naidu has been camping in the city since Monday to oversee rehabilitation efforts.
Meanwhile, the city’s two million residents have slowly started returning to normal life amid a trail of destruction all around left by the storm -- houses with collapsed walls or roofs blown away, roads littered with fallen trees, electric poles and traffic booths.
Train services resumed partially on the Visakhapatnam-Bhubaneshwar route but the crucial Vizag-Vijayawada route is yet to be restored. Both bus and mobile phone services improved.
(With agency inputs)