NEW DELHI: Millions of people are living without power or shelter in eastern India, a week after a devastating cyclone hit the region, officials said Saturday (May 11), as reports emerged of angry survivors protesting over the slow pace of relief.
At least 42 people lost their lives in India’s Odisha state and neighbouring Bangladesh after cyclone Fani barrelled into the region on May 3, packing winds of up to 200km an hour.
“The destruction has taken place over a very large area. The damage to power infrastructure is unprecedented,” Bishnupada Sethi, special relief commissioner of Odisha state, told AFP.
Sethi, who is overseeing relief efforts in Odisha, said that the cyclone affected around 16.5 million people in the state.
“Half a million houses have been damaged, 8.7 million livestock affected (dead, injured, missing, displaced), 3.7 million poultry birds are dead and we are still making efforts to restore the (entire) telecommunication network,” he said.
Officials said that power had only been restored to around 50 per cent of the one million residents in the state capital Bhubaneswar, while the most extensive damage hit the neighbouring city of Puri, where the cyclone made landfall.
Puri, which is home to around 200,000 people, is also one of the country’s most important Hindu pilgrimage sites including the ancient Shree Jagannath Temple and the Sun Temple. A team from the Archaeological Survey of India is currently assessing the damage to both the World Heritage monuments.
“The damage has happened over a very big area but we have … already restored the water supplies to pre-cyclone levels. Even the road and communication network has been restored. All our resources from across the country are deployed on the ground,” Sethi said.
But local media reports said the situation on the ground remained dire, prompting survivors to protest over the sluggish pace of relief efforts.
“We were scared as angry demonstrators threatened and tried to attack us,” N.K. Sahu, a power utility officer told the Press Trust of India on Friday after protesters tried to storm his office, demanding the restoration of electricity.
India has earned praise from the UN and other experts for the speedy evacuation of 1.2 million people in the powerful storm’s path and minimising the loss of life.
Improved forecasting models, public awareness campaigns and well-drilled evacuation plans – backed up by an army of responders and volunteers – saw Odisha’s inhabitants spared the worst of Fani’s fury.
In 1999 the same state was hit by a super-cyclone that left nearly 10,000 dead.