With winds howling at 250 km/hour, the cyclone slammed into 10 coastal Orissa districts. Jagatsinghpur, Puri, Balasore, Bhadrak, Ganjam, Khurdah, Cuttack and Kendrapara bore the brunt. The magnitude of the devastation is yet to be gauged.
At 9.30 pm, the cyclone lay centred over Cuttack and was moving north-west towards Rourkela. This is the second cyclone to storm through Orissa in 10 days. The earlier one had ravaged Ganjam district on October 17, killing nearly 200 people. While the October 17 storm measured four on the Beaufort scale (used to measure cyclones), today?s storm measured 6.5 by noon.
L.K. Chand of the Bhubaneswar Met Office said: ?It is a rare supercyclone, the likes of which we have never seen before.?
The cyclone spared most of Bengal, unleashing its fury in Midnapore. Two hundred fishermen, who sailed from Digha three days ago, were feared killed as heavy rains and high winds lashed the Bengal coastline.
Gales at 120 km/hour hit Tamluk, devastating four villages and injuring over 200 people. The administration said about 48,000 people were evacuated from Ghoramara and Sagar Island.
Alipore Met Office director R.N. Goldar said the cyclone has now weakened, but will take between 24 and 48 hours to dissipate. Winds at speeds between 80 and 100 km/hour will blow across coastal Midnapore, North and South 24-Parganas tonight.
The storm smothered Orissa, knocking out telephone and electricity poles, flattening houses and uprooting trees. Eyewitness said not a single tall tree was left standing in Bhubaneswar.
The state capital was without electricity with even chief minister Giridhar Gamang?s home and the state secretariat in darkness. Gamang sent an SOS to Delhi and asked Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee for emergency relief and help in rescue operations.
Vajpayee has convened an emergency Cabinet meeting tomorrow to review the situation. Down with flu, he will not be able to go to Orissa. Home minister L.K. Advani and defence minister George Fernandes will make the trip tomorrow.
With telephone lines down in Orissa, Vajpayee managed to speak to Gamang only twice. Union Cabinet secretary Prabhat Kumar activated the national crisis management committee.
The agriculture ministry opened a cell, from which Vajpayee was given bulletins on the cyclone every hour.
During the day, tidal waves, 25-30 feet high, whipped Paradip, from where 50,000 people were evacuated. ?We don?t know if Paradip still exists,? said D.N. Padhi, special relief commissioner. With scarcely any telephones working, hardly any detail of the devastation arrived in Bhubaneswar.
Bhubaneswar is nearly cut off from the rest of the state. National Highway V between Bhubaneswar and Berhampore has been blocked. So has the Bhubaneswar-Puri Road.
With no train or buses available, hundreds of tourists were stranded in Puri. South Eastern Railway has cancelled all trains from Puri to Howrah and all flights from Bhubaneswar. The airport has been closed.
?Though we knew a cyclone was coming, we had never expected anything like this,? Gamang said. ?All our contingency plans have gone awry. I do not know how to cope with this. The toll could be anything. I tried to contact several district headquarters but failed to get through,? he added.
The manch held a news conference today at the Vishwa Hindu Parishad media centre, despite the VHP?s claim that it has no links with the manch.
Its national organiser Maj. Gen. V.S. Joglekar said the manch?s agenda during the visit of Pope John Paul II would be confined to staying ?silent? sit-ins in prominent places and putting up banners demanding that conversions should stop and the church should not continue ?distorting? Hindu scriptures and gods.
?We will not create disturbances, but if others get provoked and start something, we will not be responsible. It is up to the authorities to find out who these others are,? Joglekar warned.
The manch leader claimed that Hindus were running out of patience and should not be ?driven to a situation when they are forced to take up arms?.
?Beware of all those who are driven to the wall slowly. Remember dogs bark all the time, while elephants remain quiet. But if they are provoked they can bring down trees and houses,? Joglekar said.
The threat recalled the Babri mosque days, when every time the VHP initiated a protest movement in Ayodhya, its standard claim was it would be ?peaceful? but if there was a violent outbreak it would not be responsible.
The VHP had adopted the same posture when the mosque was demolished in 1992. Although its cadre had swamped Ayodhya and were active in and around the mosque site when the incident actually happened, its leaders pleaded helplessness and sought to distance themselves from the demolition.
Replying to a question, Joglekar said the manch has not had talks with the government. He approved of the government?s decision not to interfere with the yatra, which began in Goa and will end in Delhi on November 4, a day before the Pope arrives.
The march aims to ?draw attention? to conversions and the ?atrocities? inflicted by Christians on Goa?s Hindus in the 16th century. ?The Centre has no intention to stop us. If it did, it would have banned the yatra in Goa itself,? said Joglekar.
He also endorsed the government?s advice to Vice-President Krishan Kant not to attend a religious function organised during the Pope?s visit.
?It is a good thing. This is a religious function, not a state function,? Joglekar said.
The ruling BJP, too, shied away from taking a stand on the manch?s demands. Spokesman Venkaiah Naidu said: ?That is the VHP?s demand, and I will not respond to that.? Naidu reiterated that in a democracy, ?everybody has a right to voice their demands?.
While the manch gave a favourable notice to the Centre, it came down heavily on the Madhya Pradesh government for interrupting the Goa-Delhi yatra yesterday in Jhabua, and allegedly today near Ratlam.
?The action was in blatant violation of our fundamental rights. The march has been perfectly peaceful since it began and the move was only meant to draw political mileage,? said manch co-convener Siva Subrahmanya. The manch has urged President K.R. Narayanan to intervene and ensure the yatra is allowed to continue.
The manch got the support of Swami Nischalanand, shankaracharya of Govardhanpeeth, Puri. In a statement from Varanasi, the swami charged the government with inviting the Pope under ?economic pressure mounted by the international community? and alleged that the visit would leave the exchequer poorer by Rs 1 crore.
The interruptions ? ?Sir, she is reading?, ?Please treat her speech as read?, ?Speak in Italian? ? ironically steadied a nervous Sonia while home minister L.K. Advani restrained his backbenchers.
The Congress president?s 20-minute speech, which kept getting postponed from afternoon till 9.15 pm, covered a wide range of subjects ? from Bofors to saffronisation of education to a probe into the Kargil conflict and nuclear disarmament.
Speaking on Bofors, Sonia became emotional and said: ?It is despicable that the name of Rajiv Gandhi has been dragged (into the scam) when he is innocent and not there to defend himself.?
Stressing that the Congress wanted the guilty to be punished, she alleged that the Vajpayee government had begun its second innings with a political vendetta.
Sonia?s private secretary V. George as well as loyalists were there to hear her. There were about 30 members who lustily cheered every sentence she spoke.
Clad in a peach sari, Sonia had with her about 20 pages of computer printouts. Ajit Jogi insisted that she only ?referred? to ?notes?, but it was for everyone to see that the references were very frequent. Every time she turned a page, the three sensitive mikes in front of her made an awful crackling sound.
What helped Sonia was that there were not too many people around to hear her speak and most of those present were tired at the end of a gruelling day.
There was some confusion over Sonia?s opening sentence in which she said she was rising to support the motion of thanks. Some Congressmen felt it was a slip of tongue, but Jogi insisted it was a gesture of goodwill towards the Vajpayee government and the President, who had unveiled the new government?s agenda.
In her speech, Sonia maintained that she was extending a hand of friendship to Vajpayee in spite of Bofors. She appreciated the new government?s thrust on information technology but followed it up with a dig at the ruling bloc. ?Yesterday?s critics have become today?s champions,? she said, referring to the criticism Rajiv Gandhi faced when he focused on computerisation in mid Eighties.
The Congress chief made it clear that she was opposed to a fixed term for the Lok Sabha and a review of the Constitution. ?Now that we are completing 50 years of our republic, it is a time to celebrate, not to denigrate,? she said.
Sonia asked the government to keep the Opposition parties informed about the Kargil review and consult them on issues like the CTBT.
She severely criticised the alleged attempts to ?saffronise? education, stating that learning must be ?modern, secular and scientific?.
This afternoon he stunned reporters by entering the press enclosure in the secretariat for the first time and exchanging pleasantries. He was at his charming best in an informal get-together.
The press enclosure is only a few yards from Basu?s chamber along the same corridor. It was built after the original press corner ? a glass enclosure in one corner of the Z category section ? was demolished on Basu?s orders in 1992. His relations with newspersons on the secretariat beat were at their nadir after that event.
There was little evidence of that, however, at today?s ?Sharad Sammelan? in the press room which was decorated for the occasion.
?I have a sweet tooth, but I can no longer eat whatever I like because of advancing age and certain dietary restrictions,? Basu said. He was actually smiling as he nibbled a sandesh that he had picked up from the plateful offered to him. For nearly 30 minutes, the press enclosure was the centre of attention.
Minutes before Basu decided to call it a day and return to his official residence in Salt Lake for lunch, policemen took position along the corridor between his chamber and the press enclosure .
With finance minister Asim Dasgupta and police minister Buddhadev Bhattacharya in tow, Basu emerged out of his chamber at 12.45 pm and walked ? no, marched ? into the room. ?Namashkar,? he greeted everyone. ?Hope you?re all well.?
One of Basu?s consistent grouses in the past 23 years against journalists covering Writers? is that they do not even allow him to walk the distance from his chamber to the VIP lift in peace.
Despite repeated official expressions of displeasure, breaking norms, walking alongside, hollering and pushing ? often after nudging his security guards out of the way? they would hurl questions at him only to get staccato responses and, Basu held, ?invariably misreport? them next day. The media persons would counter saying they could not help it as they had a job to do.
Friday was very different. Reporters asked polite questions, made inquiries about his health, shared worries over the on-now-off-now cyclone and settled down to good food. There was no tension, no flare-up, no trading of caustic remarks.
A simple wooden straight-backed chair with arm rests was brought in from the public works department to seat the chief minister. Basu?s doctors have advised him against using fancy chairs ? they could make it more difficult to heal his backache.
A journalist set the ball rolling with a small speech that reflected the sentiments of his colleagues. ?Jyoti-babu,? he said, ?you have stopped briefing us in your chamber; you no longer meet us.?
?That is not true,? Basu replied. ?Whenever you people call me at home, I receive the calls myself and try to respond to your queries as far as possible.?
Asked whether he would now again call the press to brief personally on important occasions, Basu said: ?We meet and talk almost everyday on Writer? corridors . Is it really necessary to meet and talk with you only in my office ???