Cyclone black hole swallows Orissa
Panic and trees take wings
Timor-or-conversion Pope puzzle
Sachin?s double ends desperate wait
Calcutta weather

Oct. 30 
The contours of the trail of destruction charted by the supercyclone lay locked inside battered Orissa, as it remained out of bounds for the second day today with all communication links still snapped.

With details of the devastation yet to filter out of ravaged Orissa, the Centre is bracing for a death toll in thousands. After an emergency Union Cabinet meeting this evening, Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee said his government was treating the disaster as a ?national calamity?.

Minister of state for communications Tapan Sikdar said ?some workable telecommunication facilities? will be restored by tonight.

By this evening, the supercyclone had weakened into a severe cyclonic storm and lay 30 km northeast of Bhubaneswar. It was crawling north at 5 km/hour, the Met Office in Calcutta said. Northern Orissa can expect heavy rains tomorrow along with gales at between 80 and 100 km/hour. There is a chance that the weakened cyclone will move into Bengal and cause rains. Calcutta is expected to received scattered rains also.

A grim Cabinet met today, aware that no contact had been possible with Orissa. There were fears that nearly 10 million people in eight districts have been affected. Vajpayee said 1.5 million of them could be homeless. Other sources indicated that Paradip port in Jagatsinghpur district ? which bore the brunt of the cyclone ? might have been completely flattened.

Vajpayee said he had not been able to speak to chief minister Giridhar Gamang since last night. The chief minister is said to be unable to leave his home for the state secretariat, which is a stone?s throw away. Union agriculture secretary Bhaskar Barua said even the two satellite phones with telecom personnel in Orissa were out of order.

Highspeed winds, pelting rain and snapped power and communication links prevented a team led by home minister L.K. Advani from landing for a survey of the cyclone-hit state. The team, which also included defence minister George Fernandes, tribal affairs minister Jual Oram and mines and minerals minister Naveen Patnaik had set out from Kalaikunda airbase. But it returned from Orissa?s border when air traffic control said it would not be able to guide the landing of the aircraft.

Fernandes said the Centre is drawing up the framework of a formal disaster management set-up to deal with the crisis. Air Force sorties and distribution of relief were not possible. The army, which had moved into Orissa for relief work after the first cyclone on October 17, has not been able to reach the affected places. Large areas remain submerged under tidal and rain waters. Thousands of houses have been flattened, many others washed away. The navy will be used from tomorrow to reach relief.

The army has decided to deploy columns of infantry in Balasore, Bhadrak, Jajpur, Kendrapara, Jagatsinghpur and Paradip. Three engineer columns will be used to clear the Sambalpur-Cuttack and Jagatsinghpur-Cuttack roads.

About 2,000 army personnel have been moved from Calcutta to Ranchi to help in the relief operations. The Ranchi airport will be open round-the-clock for the movement of troops.

?The destruction and disruption of communications has been such that the state government has not yet been able to make a preliminary assessment of the loss to human life and property. The Centre had released its full share of Orissa?s Calamity Relief Fund after the cyclone of October 17-18. We have now decided to make an exception and release Rs 100 crore from the National Fund for Calamity Relief,? Vajpayee said.

He said Rs 200 crore would be given in response to the Orissa government?s request for advance support. Vajpayee said this was in addition to the Rs 250 crore released to the state after his recent visit. ?All departments and agencies of the Centre have been fully engaged in relief and rescue operations,? Vajpayee added.

Patnaik, who stood by the Prime Minister?s side, said when a cyclone of lesser intensity had hit the coastal districts in 1971, the toll had crossed 10,000. He said with windspeeds touching 260 km/hour this time, one could only imagine the scale of the devastation.

When asked why it had not been declared a national calamity and why the government was only going to ?treat? it as one, Patnaik said that was because the Centre was waiting for more information on the extent of the havoc. He said it was possible that a national calamity would be declared once the details of the devastation emerged.

Other state governments have promptly responded to the Orissa government?s SOS. The Andhra Pradesh government has sent six trucks of relief material; the Madhya Pradesh administration has flagged off 15 trucks of relief items. Bihar has pledged assistance. Bengal, itself partially affected, has promised to send in as much aid as it can.

In Delhi, the Centre has purchased about 40 tonnes of polythene sheets. The Maharashtra government has promised to buy these sheets and transport them to Orissa. But no one knows when exactly these trucks would be able to enter the state.    

Bhubaneswar, Oct. 30 
Aditi Mehta, a bank employee who lives in Bhubaneswar, recalls Friday?s nightmare at noon.

Shortly after 10 am, the skies darkened and the wind began howling. Some of my colleagues started praying aloud. Hoping that the cyclone would be no more than a squall, I decided not to panic.

Soon, blinding sheets of rain enveloped our office. The few trees in the vicinity were buckling under the gale. For a moment, I thought an old neem tree outside the gate would come crashing down on our office. This would mean certain death. Sobered, I called home. Mercifully, my phone was still working.

My husband, an engineer, had returned home and was extremely worried about me. He had already brought the children home from school.

As I was speaking, a fresh gust of wind shattered the window panes to my right. Simultaneously, the power went off and a colleague began to scream.

The storm grew in intensity by the minute. Peering out of a window, I saw a hoarding sweep past our office. Then came tarpaulins from roadside kiosks and tree branches. We were marooned inside till late evening. When the winds abated slightly, a colleague volunteered to drop us home. It was another job extricating the vehicle from the parking lot where two-wheelers had toppled over one another.

Halfway down the road, a huge tree-trunk blocked us. I alighted from the car and inched my way through heavy rain. It was 10 pm when I finally reached home. Exhausted, but alive.    

New Delhi, Oct. 30 
Embarrassed at the snowballing controversy over the Pope?s visit, the Centre today tried to play down the conversion issue, saying Delhi was not aware if the matter was on the agenda of discussion between the pontiff and Indian leaders.

As part of a damage-control exercise, it also announced that India?s ambassador to Berne, K.P. Balakrishnan, who is also accredited to the Vatican and is coming here for the papal visit, will be at the Vigyan Bhavan function that Vice-President Krishan Kant was advised not to attend.

?When heads of state meet there are no fixed agenda and the discussions are broad-based,? a foreign ministry official said, asked whether the attacks on Christians or conversion by missionaries will come up for discussion. Pope John Paul II, who is to arrive here on November 5 evening, will meet President K.R. Narayanan and Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee.

?The Pope may discuss the East Timor issue, since his interest in it is well known. But it is difficult to say whether conversion will come up for discussion,? the official said.

Referring to the protests planned by outfits linked with the Sangh parivar, foreign ministry spokesman R.S. Jassal said: ?We don?t think the demonstrations or the demand that the Pope should apologise is an embarrassment for the government. That may not be our view, but this is a democratic country and people have the right to express their views, too.?

Asked if the Centre was worried, he said: ?I won?t be able to pre-empt what may happen during the visit. We?ll try to fulfil our obligations as the host country and try to make his visit as smooth and successful as possible.?

The Pope will be received at the airport by minister of state for foreign affairs Ajit Panja. He will be formally received the next day at Rashtrapati Bhavan by the President with the 21-gun salute reserved for a head of state.

India established ties with the Vatican in 1948. The Pope?s earlier visit here was in 1986. Following the courtesy shown to the Vatican?s independence by some other nations, India made its envoy to Berne, and not the one posted in Italy, accredited to the holy city.

?The Pope is coming here at the invitation of the government of India and as the head of the Vatican and the Roman Catholic Church,? Jassal said. He added that apart from security and media coverage, the pontiff would also have all the ?privileges? befitting his status.

The Bajrang Dal has frowned upon the fact that the trip is being treated as a state visit.

DD to skip mass

Doordarshan and All India Radio will broadcast live the multi-religious meet to be addressed by the Pope in Vigyan Bhavan on November 7.

But Doordarshan will not cover the mass to be held the same day by the pontiff at Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium or the closing session of the Asian Synod that he will address on November 6.    

Ahmedabad, Oct. 30 
A few weeks short of 10 years and 71 Tests. The destiny-authored wait, by Sachin Tendulkar? own admission, was ?long?. But the bottomline is that the 200-barrier has been broken.

At the Gujarat Stadium in nearby Motera, Sachin today became India?s 12th double centurion, and the first since Navjyot Sidhu (Port of Spain, in early 1997), finishing on 217 (494 minutes, 343 deliveries, 29x4).

Of course, Sunil Gavaskar?s record of 236 not out, the highest by an Indian, stays, but even the most fanatical of his fans wouldn?t have minded had Sachin gone one better.

Indeed, with no disrespect to anybody, if somebody has to eclipse the original Little Master, that honour should go to Sachin.

One day, it surely will.

At one level, a double century is purely a personal milestone. Yet, it?s different with Sachin and this innings could well set the tone for India?s march into the new millennium.

In the immediate context, it has helped slam New Zealand against the ropes (gasping at 18 for one, with three days remaining, after India declared on 583 for seven) in the third and final Pepsi Test. So, it?s time for national rejoicing.

For his part, Sachin humbly pointed out that his maiden double century ought not to be compared with the two records set at the same venue.

On the same turf, after all, Gavaskar became the first to score 10,000 Test runs (vs Pakistan, February 1987). Seven years later, the Gujarat Stadium was host to Kapil Dev?s world record-creating 432nd Test wicket (Sri Lanka?s Hashan Tillekaratne).

?What I?ve achieved isn?t anywhere close to what Gavaskar and Kapil did.... My double century isn?t in the same category,? Sachin insisted, adding that while the wait had been long, he was ?confident? of getting to 200 and beyond.

?Looking back, I showed a lot of patience when it wasn?t required... That I?d thrice got to 170-plus suggested I would, sooner or later, get those few more runs. I just decided to keep trying...?

But when did he really become conscious about getting close to the double century?

Smiling, Sachin answered: ?When I got to 180... In fact, I remember telling Ajay (Jadeja) that the feeling (on getting past the 170s) was so different... Today, I can confess to having been desperate when I?d got into the 170s for the first time (against the West Indies, in Nagpur, late 1994)...?

Was Gavaskar?s record at the back of his mind? ?Well, the whole world is aware... However, it?s not that I was only looking at 236-237, rather I was focussed on the progress of our innings,? Sachin replied.

Now that the 200-barrier had been breached, would the floodgates open?

?I?ll keep fingers crossed... What?s important, though, is to be consistent. That, in my book, is the key to success,? was Sachin?s response, this time preceded with a mild laugh.

Asked whether he wished to dedicate this effort to anybody, Sachin paused and his body-language indicated he would mention his late father.

Instead, Sachin chose to cause a mild surprise: ?I?ll dedicate it to my brothers... Like so many, even they?ve waited for ten years.?

But while one wait has ended, another has begun: The push for 300 and more. However, for now, this double century alone should silence Brian Lara admirers who, in every Sachin versus Lara debate, constantly harped on the Indian captain?s failure to even make it beyond the 200-mark.    

Forecast for today: A few spells of light rain with chances of a thundershower or two. Maximum temperature: 30.2? (-1?C ) Minimum temperature: 25.4?C (+3? C) Rainfall: Trace Maximum humidity: 93% Minimum humidity: 64% Sunset: 4.57 pm Sunrise: 5.44 am    

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