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Picking up the pieces after Cyclone Phailin

It started as a speck and ended as one but inbetween it wrecked people's livelihoods. Even as the state struggles to recover in the aftermath of Phailin, Arpit Basu gives us a status report on rehabilitation efforts.

india Updated: Oct 22, 2013 11:13 IST
Arpit Basu
Arpit Basu
Hindustan Times
Cyclone Phailin,Andhra Pradesh,Odisha

It’s 4 in the morning, N Loknath woke up and headed straight towards the prayer room of his thatched house, measuring barely 5 X 6 feet.

He worships Lord Shiva better known as ‘Shankar Bhagwan’ among the Telegu-speaking people in this region. Here, ‘Shankar Bhagwan’ is worshipped in a different form – a powerful god who saves around 5,000 fishermen like Loknath who regularly go out fishing in the sea.
After the prayer, Loknath moved out and started walking along the beach. It’s usual for him to wake up, pray and head towards the sea beach at this time of the day. The only difference – instead of going out to catch fish, he is heading towards the market to collect bamboo sticks to rebuild the thatched roof of his mud house that was blown away when Phailin made a landfall in their village.

After an hour of bargaining, Loknath came back with the bamboos.

He was not alone. That morning around 50 neighbours, who also had to go to buy bamboo poles to reconstruct their houses, followed him. There was not a katchha roof in this coastal village of 200 families of southern Odisha that was left unharmed.

“I came back from the temporary rescue centre inside the campus of the local Sishu Sadan School only on Monday evening and spent the night with my family under the open roof. Now its time to rebuild my house,” said the 40-year-old fisherman.

In a few minutes, he and his neighbours swing into action. They bring out scythes to chop the bamboo sticks to desired lengths. Then they climb ladders to reach the roofs of their respective houses. The rush is expected – unless the roofs are repaired the rain will continue to sweep the interiors.

Loknath’s wife, N Kamdu joined hands with her husband. Kamdu was cutting the bamboo poles in shape and handing them over to her husband who was perched on the roof. Loknath started tying the bamboos to the walls on one side and to an iron pole (that was not blown away by the cyclone) on the other.

The village is located right along the coastline and is barely 10 km from the tourist destination of Gopalpur on Sea.

As this correspondent travelled this distance the devastation left by the monster winds showed up everywhere.

While the concrete hotels on Gopalpur on Sea had broken window panes and shattered glasses, the roofs of all the fishermen huts were virtually missing. The rain also left the mud walls damp and infirm. It was clear while the immediate need was to rebuild the roof, the walls to have to be set right quickly before the winter months.

"Unless the walls dry up completely, it will be difficult in the winter months. But it si expensive to rebuild walls. Masons charge nothing less than Rs 200 a day for the job and add to it the cost of materials,” lamented Loknath's neighbour K Sreedhar.

Meanwhile Loknath's wife is in a hurry to complete the job. She has to complete it by noon and reach Sishu Sadan rescue centre to get hold of the lunch supplied by the government.

“It’s almost a week now that my husband hasn’t gone to the sea for fishing. We have no money to buy rice and dal. The government is providing a paltry amount of boiled rice and imli (tamarind) only once a day. That not enough for a family of seven,” said Kamdu.

However, life moved on. After Loknath finished tying the bamboo poles he headed towards thev cowshed of the nearest village of Katoru to collect hay to cover the roof.

“We faced a similar situation after the 1999 cyclone. It took nothing less than six months to start normal life. We have to get back to our normal activity as soon as possible,” murmured Loknath peering into the sea.

While Loknath was placing the haystacks over the roof, the clock had struck 12.30 pm, his son, N Pakhir and N Horlleya and daughter N Nagmani returned home with Kamdu. They were carrying the relief food wrapped in saal leaves.

Loknath came down, gulped his share and went back to his job. In fact, all the families huddled together in their respective huts under open skies to have their lunch.

When Loknath was busy building his life and livelihood once again, one man seemed restless around 22 kms away at the district headquarters of Chatrapur. He is Krishan Kumar, the district collector.

The government has procured four lakh quintals of rice, which would be supplied as relief to 2.4 lakh households of the district. For this, the government needs a little more than 4000 trucks.

“We will be giving 50 kgs of rice and a cash of Rs 500 to each family. Although we need 4,000 trucks, we managed to get only 1200 trucks and we have to repeat each truck at least twice. It can take a week to reach relief across every household,” said Kumar.

After the relief is supplied the government would concentrate to restore the electric supply in the district. “It would take at least three months,” admitted Kumar.

But, Loknath cant wait so long. He has to rush to the sea beach to repair his boats. Almost every fisherman in the Satisahiram village has decided to join hands every afternoon until and unless they complete repairing all of the 500 boats that still exists.

“There were around 2100 boats. The cyclone has damaged and washed away most of them and only 500 still exits, though substantially damaged. We have to repair them,” said A K Jayakar, the chairman of local fisherman’s association.

Within a couple of days Loknath and his friends have to stand in queues in front of the collector’s office, submitting applications for new boats. The government has promised to give one boat to all the fishermen in the Ganjam district.

“In 1999, we didn’t get any such help. May be with election round the corner, the government may be more active this time,” Loknath said with a twinkle.

First Published: Oct 20, 2013 00:42 IST