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The cyclone has passed but the misery is just beginning

Homeless, hungry victims wonder if normality will ever return

The cyclone has passed but the misery is just beginning

The devastation caused by Cyclone Phailin has left countless numbers of people with nothing.

Ritu Sharma, Balasore

October 21, 2013

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As Hemant Nayak lay awake at midnight in his one-room thatched hut after two days of continuous rain following Cyclone Phailin, a knock on his door by a fellow villager made him dread the worst.  Water was coming in great force toward the village and it was time to evacuate.

“It was scary, very scary. We just got over the nightmare of the cyclone, and floods followed. It was beyond everybody’s imagination,” Nayak of Thanagadia village in Balasore district in Orissa, told

Nayak rushed his wife and two children to a school building on higher ground just outside the village. Within three hours, the 270-family village was filled with almost two meters of water, destroying everything in its path.

Eventually, Nayak’s family was forced to leave the school as water started entering the building.

“I cannot imagine that I survived,” Nayak said.

Balasore was one of the four districts hit by floods that followed the October 12 cyclone. More than a million people in these districts were affected and nearly two million mud and thatched houses were destroyed. About 250,000 acres of paddy fields also were damaged. Other districts affected are Bhadrak, Keonjahar and Mayurbhanj.

Receding flood waters left a trail of destruction; mud houses were destroyed while uprooted trees lined the road sides. Little escaped nature’s fury.

Some villages in Bhadrak district remain inaccessible more than a week after the cyclone. The local administration decided to release water from the Hardagada dam due to overflowing of the nearby Shalindi River, which in turn increased floodwaters in these villages.

In such conditions, government officials said maintaining proper sanitation to avoid an epidemic outbreak remained their biggest challenge. Arvind Padhi, relief commissioner of Balasore district, said the administration is geared up to meet any of those challenges.

Prema Dalai, whose home was destroyed in the floods, somehow managed to erect a shade with bamboo sticks and dry leaves.

“We sleep and cook under this shed only. We are left with only what we are wearing. Everything is gone,” Dalai said. Wiping tears from the side of her torn sari, she said that her family is surviving on dry rations.

People in flood-affected areas are poor and depend on agriculture for their livelihood. With their yearly crop gone, they are left with nothing to generate income. Sanjay Kumar Jena of Tihdi village in Bhadrak district said his only option was to work as a laborer as it seemed unlikely his land will be ready to cultivate anytime soon.

“I am not sure whether the land would be suitable by next year as the damage is extensive,” he said.

Although the federal government was able to minimize cyclone casualties through preparedness and effective management, village residents said they believed the government was unprepared and unaware of the floods that followed.

“There was no prior warning. The government did not know this would happen and we are suffering now,” said Niranjan Malik of Tihdi village.

Padmalochan Mahto of Tihdi village said that the government seems to be only worried about those affected by the cyclone “but our loss is also of equal magnitude. We too have lost everything.”

Cyclone Phailin created havoc across the eastern India state last week killing more 20 people and destroying crops, trees and communication lines. Nine million people were evacuated to safer places ahead of the cyclone with many now homeless.

Although the government and church agencies are trying to assist those affected, local residents said the aid is woefully inadequate to meet their daily needs.

“The government is providing only 50 kgs of rice and 500 rupees (US$8). The rice will not even last more than 10 days for a big family like mine. They should not make mockery of our poverty,” said G Krishna Rao of Arjiapally village in Ganjam district, one of the first places to be hit by the cyclone.

Rao, who lost his fishing boat to the cyclone, said he is desperate to resume his work. “After the cyclone, I come to the sea shore everyday hoping that things would be normal soon,” he said, as his eyes gazed toward the horizon.

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