Millions of cyclone-stranded Indians wait for relief
PM pledges more aid for victims
November 6, 1999
PARADWIP, India (CNN) -- Hunger has sparked widespread looting in the devastated Indian state of Orissa, where a deadly cyclone crashed ashore a week ago killing hundreds and stranding millions with no access to medicine, food or clean water.
Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee toured some of the ravaged areas of the eastern province, announcing an additional $20 million in aid Friday and pledging redoubled efforts to rescue millions of people marooned by a crushing storm.
"To me, the loss of human life and habitation is unimaginable," said Vajpayee. "I share the grief and agony of thousands of families.
The death toll from the cyclone -- ten times more damaging than the last huge storm off the Bay of Bengal 22 years ago -- was 1,500 and rising, officials said Friday. Rescue workers were cremating bodies as fast as they could to avoid increasing an already serious risk of epidemics.
Sixty percent of the area affected by the cyclone was still inaccessible on Friday -- half of the 15 million people in the storm's path still had received no aid.
Nearly three quarters of Kakakpur village was submerged Friday, and 200 people had crammed into the village's only concrete building, a granary.
Especially hard hit was Orissa's major port city, Paradwip, where hundreds and possibly thousands were dead, a million and a half were homeless and the water was contaminated by the stinking carcasses of dead animals.
"My kids are just living on salt water," said one woman. "They drink water and then throw it up. There is no medicine."
Clear skies speed relief effort
The government's relief effort has been slow, disorganized and inadequate, said the people who have been waiting for a week for help.
Officials acknowledged the difficulty of getting aid to those who need it most, but said the storm's 300 km/h (186 mph) winds and high tidal surge created nearly insurmountable problems.
"We have sufficient relief material, but it is difficult to send to it to the affected regions due to a lack of roads," said state Finance Minister Raghunath Patnaik.
The skies cleared Friday for the first time since the cyclone blew across the state with heavy rains that created vast lakes of floodwaters along the coast.
Military helicopters took advantage of the improving weather to speed up emergency drops of food to areas cut off by underwater roads. Desperate villagers followed the military aircraft through murky, stagnant water to grab the small packets containing high-protein sustenance.
"How can you blame people for struggling for food when most of them have not eaten in the last three days and have lost all they had?" said S.S. Singh, a port officer with the Cooperative for Assistance and Relief Everywhere (CARE) India.
Singh, who drove from Paradwip to the state capital, Bhubaneshwar, said he saw fishing communities of stranded women and children and no men. The men had not returned from the sea since last Friday when the cyclone struck.
'We are trying to save lives'
Although no epidemics of such disaster-born diseases as malaria and cholera had been reported, relief officials feared the worst.
The International Federation of the Red Cross said cyclone shelters built along the coast undoubtedly saved lives when storm struck, but many of those were inaccessible.
"Now we are transporting relief in boats and by foot," said the Red Cross's Julian Francis. "It's long and tedious, but we are trying to save lives."
Relief workers were also trying to rush in snake venom antidote -- the flooding forced hundreds of poisonous snakes out of the holes.
Realizing the government's relief efforts were taking time and fearing the worst, volunteers in Orissa have begun cleaning up the streets themselves.
"We want to do something ourselves," said one man. "We can't wait for the government to do something."
Local businessmen were also pitching in.
"I have adopted these villages and I am going to give them shelter," said businessman Abhey Oswal. "I am going to give them food. I am going to give them water and all the medicine."
Corpses pile up in India cyclone; disease and hunger stalk survivors
Cooperative for Assistance and Relief Everywhere (CARE)
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