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Cyclone Fani-ravaged Odisha stares at a long road to recovery

Puri, where Fani made landfall on May 3, is almost pulverised as if hit by some brutal force that left bruising scars on several prominent landmarks.

india Updated: May 08, 2019 12:58 IST
Debabrata Mohanty
Debabrata Mohanty
Hindustan Times, Puri/Bhubaneswar
Cyclone Fani,India news,Odisha storm
At some places, huge roots of trees are plucked out of the ground while corrugated sheets from shops and petrol pumps hang from electric wires. (PTI PHOTO)

From state capital Bhubaneswar to religious capital Puri, giant chakunda and banyan trees, and wrenched electric poles and power transformers lay scattered on the 65-km stretch of the National Highway 316.

At some places, huge roots of trees are plucked out of the ground while corrugated sheets from shops and petrol pumps hang from electric wires.

The crowns of coconut trees, which make this picturesque highway famous, are broken and the trees bent.Four days after Cyclone Fani, which killed at least 37 people in the state and pummelled the Odisha coast with wind speeds of up to 274 km per hour, the two cities and adjoining areas are in distress. Vegetable prices in affected areas have skyrocketed. So have fuel prices. Drinking water supply, too, is a cause for concern as people struggle to make ends meet in the disaster zone.

Puri, where Fani made landfall on May 3, is almost pulverised as if hit by some brutal force that left bruising scars on several prominent landmarks.

The iron scaffolding covering the Jagannath temple, the biggest tourist attraction in the city, has crumbled. Kalpa Bata, a huge banyan tree in the sprawling temple, has broken.

The roofs of the residence of the district collector and the superintendent of police were blown away. The gate of the heritage hotel BNR Chanakya lay in tatters. As the “extremely severe cyclone” hit Odisha, several buses overturned and two-wheelers kept in showrooms were flung away.

In Kathauli village of Puri’s Brahmagiri block, farmer Daitari Lenka said he had never seen the sea so angry and hot. “Two days before the storm hit, it seemed as if it [the sea] was spewing fire...,” recounted Lenka, who took shelter in a broken concrete pipe.

In Bhubaneswar, it uprooted electric poles and trees, shattered window panes of several residential and commercial complexes, and damaging the facade and roof of the Biju Patnaik International Airport. In neighbouring Cuttack, the cyclone hit the Orissa High Court, which is still shut.

“Cyclone Fani is one of the rarest of rare summer cyclones to hit Odisha in 43 years. The devastation is unfathomable and unprecedented,” tweeted chief minister Naveen Patnaik, a day after the cyclone ripped through the Odisha coast.

A day before the cyclone hit, his administration evacuated over 1.4 million people in the arc of the cyclone to safe houses. The state’s prompt action earned applause from Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who visited Odisha on May 6.

The Centre has already announced an assistance of ~1,000 crore after making an aerial survey of the affected areas, and has promised more.

The state’s efforts minimised the damage, but it is grappling with relief and restoration work. Power and telecom connectivity has been hit hard, with the cyclone damaging the infrastructure. Over 14 million people in about 16,000 villages and 51 urban local bodies have been affected by Fani.

State energy secretary Hemant Sharma said 156,000 electric poles were uprooted or damaged in the state; Puri alone accounted for 56,000 of them.

Over 5,030km of 33 kilovolt lines, 38,613km of 11 kilovolt lines, 79,485km of low tension lines and 11,077 distribution transformers have been completely damaged.

The telecom services have suffered near-total breakdown in Puri, Khurda and Cuttack, with several mobile towers of BSNL, Reliance Jio and Airtel damaged.

Sharma said the state has around 2500-odd technicians to work on damaged power lines while the requirement is the double. “We are trying to restore power to 25% of the areas in Bhubaneswar by Tuesday,” he said.

But officials in his department, speaking on condition of anonymity, say power connection may not be restored before a week. “So far, just 200-odd consumers of CESU [Central Electricity Supply Utility of Odisha] in Bhubaneswar have been given power, while there are 300,000 consumers,” said the official. In Puri, officials say it would be a much longer wait.

Already in the grip of a cruel summer, the lack of power has hit the people of Puri and Khurda — of which Bhubaneswar is a part — hard as they depend on bore wells, which run on electricity.

“I cannot afford a generator set. So I tried getting one on rent. But the rates are climbing up — from ~1,000 an hour 3 days ago to ~1500 an hour today,” said Nityananda Swain of Bhubaneswar’s Bapuji Nagar.

In Puri, housewife Anima Das said she is planning to leave for her parent’s house in Dhenkanal district, which escaped the fury of cyclone. “I have not taken bath since the day cyclone hit. I am buying water for my kids. This is proving to be very difficult,” said Das. In Bhubaneswar and Puri, the government has deployed water tankers to supply drinking water. But that too is inadequate. In the capital, people in a housing colony blocked a road, demanding water.

So far there has been no outbreak of any diseases in the affected areas, but the government is cautious. “We have opened 804 medical rehabilitation centres and deployed 321 mobile medical teams. Over 5700 open water sources have been disinfected and 2.85 million ORS sachets have been distributed,” said state health secretary Pramod Meherda.

Apart from the telecom and electrical infrastructure, the green canopy that Puri and Bhubaneswar once boasted of has been a casualty of the cyclone. “We are yet to make an assessment of the number of coconut trees, banyan trees and several other trees that dotted the landscape. The numbers would run into millions,” said special relief commissioner Bishnupada Sethi.

The cyclone has also set the prices of essential goods skyrocketing, with potato selling at Rs 20 a kg and eggs at Rs 8-10 apiece.

With the markets devastated by the cyclone, vegetable prices have hit the roof. Though few petrol pumps are open, fuel is selling ~Rs 150-200 a litre in the interiors of Puri. With no power and water, a large number of students in Bhubaneswar are finding it difficult. “There are very few roadside eateries left.. .I am heading for my village,” said Soumya Sourav Mohanty, an engineering student. The other major problem that people in Puri and Bhubaneswar are facing is non-functional ATMs.

Sunanda Swain, who works in a private organisation, queued up before the ATM in Sahid Nagar area on Tuesday morning, but when her turn came, she found it “out of order”.

“I have gone around the area checking almost all ATMs. I have to get some cash...as shops are only accepting cash and not cards,” said Swain.

Odisha chief minister Patnaik announced two days ago that all families covered under the National Food Security Act in Puri district and Bhubaneswar city will get 50kg of rice, Rs 2,000 and polythene sheets.

But for fisherfolk in Puri’s Penthakota area who lost their homes to the cyclone, the long wait for relief did not end on a happy note.

“The rice is all soggy and unfit for human consumption. Are we dogs that they gave us such relief?” asked D Divya, a fisherwoman, who stood under the scorching sun, waiting for relief material.

As dusk fell and candles were lit in the shacks at Puri beach, Telugu fisherman P Dhananjay Swami sat on a dingy just across his house in Betanolia sahi. The cyclone flattened his asbestos-roofed house and flung his boat several metres away.

“Earlier we used to sleep on the beach without any care for the waves. But after Fani, I am scared of the sea. I had never seen it so violent,” he said.

First Published: May 08, 2019 08:24 IST