The cyclone shelter at Agasti Nuagaon in Ganjam. Picture by Ashwinee Pati
Chhatrapur, Oct. 19: Villagers in Gopalpur are thanking their lucky stars for having escaped what could have been their worst nightmare. The port town — where the eye of cyclonic storm Phailin touched Odisha coast but not with as much intensity as had been anticipated — is yet to get a cyclone shelter.
People of the coastal Nua Buxipalli village near Gopalpur said the foundation stone for the cyclone shelter there was laid in March. Though more than seven months have passed, construction had been progressing at a snail’s pace with only 10 per cent work being completed.
V. Vijay Kumar, a local resident, who had taken refuge on a water tank on the first floor of a building located on a high ground during the cyclone on October 12, said he had doubts whether the shelter house at his village would come up any time soon.
“The chief minister visited our village on October 14 and assured us of all possible help. But, we are yet to get relief materials including the 50kg rice bags, tarpaulin sheets and Rs 500. If this can happen despite the chief minister’s assurance, how can we expect the cyclone shelter to be completed in time?” he said.
Quite a few other cyclone shelters in the coastal villages of Ganjam district were found in sorry states. Many villagers preferred to stay perched on pucca houses rather than taking shelter in the dilapidated government buildings.
“Around 50 of us reached a cyclone shelter outside our village on the instructions of government officials. But when we reached there, we found that the building was in a precarious state. As the wind picked up speed, portions of the building started crumbling. We no longer considered it safe and left for temporary shelters at Chhatrapur, around five kilometres from our village,” said Thalukku Rajiv, a fisherman of Sana-Nolianuagaon.
The villagers also said that the very location of the multipurpose shelter houses testified the government’s lack of vision. The shelters had been constructed on low-lying areas in two villages of Chhatrapur — Agasthi Nuagaon and Nolianuagaon — which are close to the sea. The shelters are in pathetic condition with cement plaster peeling off at many places. Villagers said the fractures and fissures on these buildings could hardly assure them of a safe lodging. Apart from this, the lack of amenities in these cyclone shelters also added to the villagers’ woes. The toilets are nearly unusable and there are no provisions for drinking water.
“The buildings lie unused throughout the year and also lack basic amenities. We preferred not to go there and stayed up on the terrace of a house built on elevated land,” said 65-year-old V. Shravanan of Agasthi Nuagaon.
Local legislator Pradeep Panigrahi said there was a full-fledged cyclone shelter at Tulu village in his area. He claimed that more than 1,000 people had been housed at the shelter.
Villagers, however, had another tale to tell. “We took shelter in far-flung places where the government officials escorted us. But, we decided not to stay there fearing the buildings might come down,” said D. Tatheya, a villager.
Former MLA of Chhatrapur Ashok Kumar Choudhury, who was seen actively helping people during the post-cyclone evacuation, said people preferred to stay in schools, colleges and other government and private buildings that were in regular use.
“The government’s cyclone shelters are virtually useless. There were no facilities for pregnant women, the disabled and the elderly,” said Choudhury, advising the government to review the conditions of such shelters.