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A month after cyclone Fani, Puri is building itself brick by brick

A month after cyclone Fani packing in windspeed in the range of 250 km per hour smashed ashore and wreaked havoc in the coastal district, life seems to be returning to normalcy in Puri.

india Updated: Jun 02, 2019 21:18 IST
Debabrata Mohanty
Debabrata Mohanty
Hindustan Times, Puri
cyclone fani,heatwave,odisha cyclone
While livelihood remains a problem, the immediate problem that people in Puri district face are houses that can withstand the impending monsoon, about a fortnight away(HTPhoto)

Standing outside hotel Golden Tree, its manager Sridhar Biswal ordered few of his workers fixing the new glass doors to be extra careful. Four doors with thick glasses were being fixed a month after cyclone Fani smashed them to smithereens. With his hands firmly planted on his waist, Biswal looked at the crowd that had gathered on sea beach and intoned to himself: “People will come back. In a month we will be up and about.”

A month after cyclone Fani packing in windspeed in the range of 250 km per hour smashed ashore and wreaked havoc in the coastal district, life seems to be returning to normalcy in Puri, the Ground Zero of the storm. The cyclone affected 1.65 crore people in 14 districts, but the casualty was limited to 64 as over 1.4 million people could be evacuated before the landfall.

Electricity is back in Puri town and at least 52 per cent area of the district now have power supply, even if erratic. But with villagers getting restive over delay in power supply, there have been quite a few accidents. A couple in Kanas area of Puri district died this morning after coming in contact with a livewire while plucking flowers. Mobile connectivity is back across the district. A few hotels have opened. The massive amount of debris including hundreds of thousands of fallen trees, broken asbestos, mangled galvanised sheets, glass shards are slowly being cleared with garbage trucks rumbling through the district. Hundreds of electrical workers from different parts of the state and outside are fixing high tension lines, erecting electric poles and stringing the wires even as a searing heatwave singes the area.

“We are making progress despite the initial challenges we faced,” said district collector Balwant Singh, working in his office on Sunday afternoon issuing orders and taking stock of the situation.

But Puri still has a long, long way to go to recover from a storm that completely destroyed or severely damaged over 1 lakh houses, uprooted more than a million trees and left thousands without a livelihood.

In Moto village of Brahmagiri block, one of the two zones where Fani made landfall on May 3 morning, the fisherfolk are sitting idle or sleeping in the cyclone shelter, unable to sleep inside their homes at night due to the heat and humidity. The villagers have somehow managed to cover the gaping holes in their roofs with small polythene sheets strung across, but lack of electricity and a searing heatwave have forced them to scurry to the relatively cooler cyclone shelter.

The 800-odd fishermen in the village, that is just about 500 metres away from Chilika, Asia’s largest brackish water lake, and a kilometre away from the Bay of Bengal would have been out in the sea or the lake in their mechanised boats. But with their boats smashed to pieces and their fishing nets entangled and torn in the casurina forests by the cyclone, fishermen like Narendra Behera have been left pauper.

“After the cyclone passed, I could not find my boat while others had their boats in several pieces. I had already repaid the money that I had borrowed from the bank. I don’t know what to do,” said a shirtless Behera, lying on the floor of the cyclone shelter. “We had never imagined that the cyclone would be so catastrophic. Many of us would have died had we not rushed to an engineering college,” said Duryodhan Behera.

To provide immediate means of livelihood, the district administration now plans to cover cleaning, debris removal, cleaning of ponds under MGNREGS.

While livelihood remains a problem, the immediate problem that people in Puri district face are houses that can withstand the impending monsoon, about a fortnight away. About a lakh-odd houses need to be rebuilt, but officials admit there is hardly any time for it. “But for the time being these houses can be made habitable by covering the roofs with galvanised sheets. Each of the damaged houses would need at least 10 galvanised sheets to cover the roofs. In Puri we don’t have that many sheets. The biggest challenge is to make the sheets available at grampanchayat level,” said Singh.

Many of the cyclone-affected victims who had taken refuge in cyclone shelters and schools have started moving back to their homes or their neighbours, but still there are people in at least 300 schools. Officials say once the schools reopen on June 16, it would be a major challenge to house these people. Though rental houses like that in the aftermath of Kerala floods are being thought of, no decision has been taken so far.

There are other concerns like repairing of schools before end of summer vacation and cleaning of village ponds, polluted by debis and fallen trees. In Palanka village of Brahmagiri block, the upper primary and high school, villagers are not sure if the schools can reopen by June 16. “The schools in our village have suffered so much damage that they need to be completely rebuilt. The furniture is all gone,” said Sachidananda Samantray, whose sons study there.

While a huge, complex rebuilding job lies ahead, the Odisha government said it would submit its final damage assessment report to the Centre by next week. The State officials had submitted a preliminary report of damage amounting to Rs 11942.68 crore with the inter-ministerial team of central government during their visit between May 12 and May 15. While the damage assessment by all the districts have come, Puri is yet to submit the report.

On Sunday afternoon, hundreds of visitors thronged the Puri sea beach, enjoying the surf and the sand as the city tried to limp back to normalcy. While hoteliers along the sea beach hope that the city will be ready before the car festival next month, not many are so hopeful. Divisional Forest Officer of Puri, HB Udgata said, Puri will not be the same with almost 90 per cent of its tree cover gone. “It will not be the same Puri,” he said.

First Published: Jun 02, 2019 21:18 IST