In cyclone-hit Odisha, police and ordinary citizen become good samaritans
Pritismita Parida knew better when Cyclone Fani lashed Odisha’s coast at a speed exceeding 250 km per hour bringing the state to its knees on May 3.
Hours before the strongest tropical cyclone to hit Odisha in last 20 years ripped through the coast, the woman constable at Talachua marine police station of Kendrapara district did what very few expected her to do.
The 23-year-old constable rode her scooter and evacuated over 300 elderly, women and children who rode pillion on her bike to the safety of cyclone shelters.
Many of the villagers were unwilling to shift to cyclone shelters. But a dogged Parida persisted and got them to come with her as she rode through the muddy and slippery roads. A week later, villagers are quietly thanking Parida for her help.
Ten days after cyclone Fani battered Odisha coast, the tales of many such Good Samaritans are emerging from across the state.
While Parida saved the lives of people on the coast, staff nurse in Bhubaneswar’s Capital Hospital Ramarani Biswal and several other nurses protected 23 newborn babies in the special newborn care unit (SNCU) of the government hospital.
As Fani battered Bhubaneswar on May 3, the faux ceiling of SNCU started giving away. This is when Biswal and six other nurses hunched together to form a human umbrella over the newborn babies. Biswal suffered a serious spinal injury, but it seemed to be the last thing on her mind.
“We were holding babies with one hand and the collapsed ceiling portions on the other. We had to save the babies at any cost,” she said.
As the cyclone dumped rainwater through the ceiling and windows flooding the hospital floor, the nurses panicked but kept their nerves steady as they started shifting babies to the relatively safer ground floor.
The nurses and doctors can’t believe they pulled out the babies from the jaws of death. The babies were provided oxygen and later 11 of them were shifted to other hospitals.
“It is nothing short of a miracle,” said a nurse.
A little goes a long way
In Bargarh district, sisters Manisarani Padhan and Lipsarani Padhan of Bausenmora donated Rs 10,000 from their piggy bank to the chief minister’s relief fund.
Former dean of SCB Medical College and Hospital in Cuttack, Prof Sidharth Das, donated his entire month’s pension to the CMRF while Odisha chief information commissioner Sunil Mishra donated his month’s salary.
Bimohan Parhi alias Babu, who runs two restaurants in Bhubaneswar including the popular food joint Babu Moshai, fed about 5,000 people couple of days after the cyclone hit the city.
Though his own restaurant was severely damaged and went without power, Parhi religiously cooked for cyclone survivors who thronged the bus stop outside his restaurant to eat rice and curry. Parhi closed the free kitchen two days ago, but the photo of people queuing up for food has gone viral on Facebook.
“I did not do anything great. I just thought of doing something to help my neighbours in distress,” said Parhi. “Many policemen and NDRF jawans who cleared the roads of fallen trees came to have food at my restaurant. It makes you feel good that you can help someone in whatever possible way.”
Yugabrat Kar, who runs the popular restaurant Wildgrass in Puri, has been hit hard by the cyclone with the galvanised tin sheets covering his roof blown away and the trees stripped bare. But Kar has opened his restaurant running a community canteen serving subsidised food to people around his restaurant.
“It may take quite some time before Puri gets power and for housewives, it would be difficult to cook. So we are offering subsidised lunch and dinner at Rs 25, 50 and 100,” said Kar.
Kar is also running his vehicle-mounted water purifier around the city and offering it for free.
“The water that is being supplied by the municipality does not taste well and tastes a little salty. So our water purifiers are going around and purifying the water that the municipality is supplying. I am also offering my 3-kilowatt portable genset free to households for lifting water to their overhead tanks,” he said.
Tea-sellers Manguli Dora and Debendra Pradhan and labourer Goutam Karmakar were severely affected by the cyclone that tore through their asbestos-roofed houses in Mochisahi area of Puri. But the three pooled in money, bought rice and vegetables to run a community kitchen for the local people.
Khalsa Aid International, an NGO run by Sikh volunteers, started providing cooked food and water to the cyclone victims in Puri from May 7 to around 5,000 people every day.
“We are here for helping the people and will serve food to the public. It’s our duty,” said a member of Gurudwara Singh Sabha in Bhubaneswar.
The members of Hingula temple trust in Talcher have also been feeding thousands of affected people from their free kitchen on Puri’s Grand Road every day.
Police to the rescue
Odisha police, who routinely get panned for rising cases of crime and failure in prosecuting criminals, also became heroes to thousands of cyclone-affected people in Puri.
Dolagobinda Swain, assistant sub-inspector of Bhubaneswar’s Khandagiri police station, passed out when a green coconut that fell on his head soon after the storm got over. Swain had rushed out of the police station after receiving a message that a man was injured after being hit by a fallen branch.
The policeman regained his senses in the hospital several hours later and was advised rest for seven days. “But he got himself discharged from the hospital two days later and was back at work clearing trees,” said Bhubaneswar deputy commissioner of police Anup Kumar Sahu.
In Pipili police station, woman constable Sanjukta Kujur’s asbestos roof was blown away by the storm but that did not deter Kujur from reporting to duty. Since May 4 she has been coming to the police station with her two-year-old son as her home is waiting to be repaired.
In Puri, the police have been running free kitchen called Karuna in 19 places of Puri district serving a steaming plate of rice and dalma (a preparation of lentil and several vegetables) to over one lakh people in Puri since May 5.
“While we are still grappling with the aftermath of the cyclone, I am proud that as the head of Odisha police I could motivate my officers and men and women to walk the extra mile in meeting the arduous challenge of rescue and restoration,” tweeted Odisha DGP RP Sharma.
In Puri, inspector general of police Soumendra Priyadarshi has been quietly getting relief material worth Rs 8 crore through friends and well-wishers and distributing them among the affected people.
“People have donated everything that you can think of - from vegetables to candles, flattened rice, biscuit, mineral water, jaggery. As soon as the relief material reach us we are sending it for distribution in no time,” said Priyadarshi.
In Gajapati district, where cyclone Titli wreaked havoc causing the death of 49 people in October last year, superintendent of police Sara Sharma went around the town with a begging bowl seeking help for people affected by cyclone Fani. Sharma, who herself donated Rs 10,000 and four days salary took the lead in collecting over Rs 6 lakh in an hour.
Not entirely convinced of the police’s intention, some thought twice before chipping. But the IPS officer persisted in her effort beseeching people.
“I promise, every pie you donated will reach the needy,” she said.
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