ucanews.com reporter, New DelhiUpdated: November 19, 2018 09:52 AM GMT
One of the towers of Basilica of Our Lady of Good Health at Venakanni can be seen without its cross after Cyclone Gaja blew it away Nov. 16. The cyclone also killed at least 45 people and displaced thousands on the coast of southern Tamil Nadu state. (Photo by John Arokiaraj)
A cyclone killed more than 40 people and displaced hundreds of others at the weekend as it tore a destructive path across southern India, severely damaging farmland and buildings including the region's most revered Marian shrine.
Catholic Church agencies have joined Tamil Nadu state government in relief efforts to help people affected by Cyclone Gaja in Thanjavur Diocese and Pondicherry-Cuddalore Archdiocese.
Officials say at least 46 people were killed and more than 100,000 displaced when their thatched homes were blown way by strong winds and driving rain that hit coastal areas early on Nov. 16, when the Gaja made landfall.
"More than 122,000 people have been evacuated and are in 351 relief camps, while rescue teams are helping others in villages, cut off by the storm," said John Arokiaraj of Caritas India, the Catholic Church's social action arm in the region.
He said at least 10,120 houses were destroyed and another 5,770 partially damaged, while 1,300 fishing boats and other fishing gear were damaged. Livestock, crops and coconut trees were badly affected were also destroyed, he said.
The worst-hit areas were in Tanjavur Diocese.
"The livelihoods of our people are destroyed when their fishing equipment or livestock and farmlands were destroyed," diocesan chancellor John Zachariah said.
More than 30 churches, including the Basilica of Our Lady of Good Health at Venakanni, some 60 chapels and 15 schools were also damaged in the cyclone, he said.
Rector of the Marian Shrine, Father Maria Anotony Prabhakar, said the storm blew away a cross atop one of shrine's two towers.
"Another building in the compound also suffered damage," he told ucanews.com. The hands of a 20-meter-high statue of Jesus Christ also suffered damaged.
"There was no loss of life or injury at the shrine," he added.
The shrine, a pilgrim center since the 16th century, attracts some 20 million people a year. Church officials said some 3 million of them come during a 11-day long annual festival that concludes on Sept. 8, which Catholic celebrate as Mary's birthday.
Despite the damage, hundreds of people were taking shelter in the buildings within the shrine compound, while 15 other Catholic parishes were also providing shelter and assisting people, church officials said.
The bishops' conference vowed to help as many people as it could irrespective of religion.
"Caritas India is assessing the damage and will begin immediate relief intervention as soon as possible," Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas, the conference secretary-general said in a statement.