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Apathy cracks cyclone shelters

- 105 buildings declared unsafe in Kendrapara district

Paradip, Jan. 2: People in the coastal villages still shudder with a sense of foreboding every time dark clouds gather on the horizon and the sea becomes rough. The memories of the havoc wreaked by the 1999 super cyclone that killed nearly 1,000 on the state’s coast linger.

But, the officialdom seems to have forgotten the tragedy sooner than one would expect. The widening cracks in the roofs and walls of the cyclone shelters built across Jagatsinghpur and Kendrapara districts in the past 12 years stand testimony to this. The super cyclone had struck the state on October 29 and 30 in 1999.

As many as 105 of the shelters in Kendrapara district have been declared unsafe for want of repairs. Of these, 46 are located at seaside Mahakalpada and Rajnagar tehsils.

Kendrapara collector Durga Prasad Behera admitted that these buildings needed urgent repairs, but claimed that most of the other shelters were still in a good shape though they might require periodic repair and maintenance. “We have requested the government to allocate Rs 80 lakh for the purpose,” said Behera.

While Kendrapara district has 813 cyclone shelters, Jagatsinghpur has 593. Of these, nearly 200 in the twin districts are in a bad shape and may not be able to serve the purpose for which they were built.

Worse some of these were built short-sightedly at disadvantageous locations. The last floods showed how useless some of these had become for the people at the time of calamity.

Jagatsinghpur district collector Satya Kumar Mallick said: “Our emphasis is on keeping them well maintained as the district is vulnerable to natural calamities. We have sought financial assistance from the government for repairs as some of the shelters are in a bad shape.”

Such assurance notwithstanding there is no denying official apathy. The neglect appears all the more shocking considering that most of these structures were funded by the Prime Minister’s Relief Fund, all the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha members, Chief Minister’s Relief Fund, the governments of Maharashtra and Karnataka. Besides scores of voluntary agencies, corporate sectors and public sector undertakings had generously donated money for the projects as part of post-cyclone reconstruction and restoration work.

The buildings were designed to withstand wind speed of up to 300kmph and moderate earthquakes. They stood above high flood line to remain safe from storm surges caused by the disturbed sea.

However, the 2011 floods brought to focus the short-sightedness of the officials, who executed the projects. The selection of sites for the shelters proved to be bad in most cases. The cyclone shelters were inundated because most of them were in the low-lying areas. Poor maintenance made them even more uninhabitable.