Debris hide Orissa death trail
Damper on Atal date with Parvez
If only promises had wings ...

Bhubaneswar, Oct. 31 
The tip of the devastation in Orissa began to emerge from the debris today but the fate of thousands of people living on the coast was unknown even 48 hours after the supercyclone crumpled the state.

With the capital in ruins and roads and telecommunication links in tatters, chief minister Giridhar Gamang said it was not possible for the administration to determine the loss of lives and the scale of damage.

A PTI report quoted Gamang as saying 172 people were killed in Kendrapara, Cuttack and Khurda. As many as 150 of the casualties were reported from Kendrapara, which bore the brunt of the cyclone. The supercyclone has weakened into a depression.

However, official sources said they feared that the toll could cross 10,000 and nearly 10-15 million people have been affected.

Gamang today flew over Jagatsinghpur, Cuttack and Kendrapara to assess the extent of the damage. Video-clips of the aerial survey showed a wrecked Paradip. Barring a few concrete structures, nothing was visible. The imposing facade of the port was a mass of concrete slabs and iron scrap.

The cyclone flattened at least 25 lakh kuchcha houses in 10 coastal districts. Jagatsinghpur and Kendrapara were the worst hit. The government said the loss could run into Rs 100 crore as hundreds of acres of paddy, ripe for harvest, were destroyed.

Bhubaneswar airport has been made operational and Indian Airlines will fly two additional services tomorrow morning from Delhi. The Sambalpur-Cuttack and Balasore-Bhubaneswar national highways have been partially cleared by the army.

Over 5,000 troops are involved in the rescue operation, named Operation Sahayata. The ground forces made some headway today and rescued several marooned people, but rain and winds continued to hamper helicopter and planes. Six naval ships carrying relief materials are heading towards the state.

The Union government said tonight telecom services in Bhubaneswar, Balasore, Berhampur, Sambalpur have been restored. Six satellite phones from Delhi and one from Calcutta were also despatched to Bhubaneswar.

But the capital has been without power for the past two days and most residential areas had no water. State government sources said it may take nearly a week to restore power supply.

The city wore a wartime look with uprooted trees, telephone and electric poles blocking the main thoroughfares. The cyclone knocked down the television and radio towers and blew off the air traffic control radar at Bhubaneswar airport.

?It looks as though a giant has trampled through the city with a mower in hand and destroyed everything in its way,?? said S.P. Behera of Sahidnagar.

Heavy rain accompanying the storm ravaged the slums dotting the outskirts of the capital, rendering more than one lakh people homeless. Though the state government today asked the local municipal councillors to open free soup kitchens, the scheme failed to take off in many places.

In Saliasahi, the city?s biggest slum, which is still under water, many residents complained of not receiving any relief. ?There is no government here,?? said Satyasain, a victim.

As the sun peeped from behind a cloudy sky this morning for the first time in two days, people ventured out of their homes to clean up the neighbourhood. Residents untangled webs of telephone and electric cables strewn on the streets and shoved aside broken poles to make room for vehicles.

?The storm has brought out the best in us. Those who have never pitched in are now lending a helping hand,?? said Om Prakash, a resident of the affluent Surya Nagar area of the city.

Rumours of another cyclone triggered fresh panic as it started raining in the afternoon. The city meteorological office could not provide any information because of micro-link failure.

Many areas witnessed food riots of sorts as people stormed the few shops which were open to stock up essential items. A hungry mob looted a ration shop in Unit 7. Vegetables became scarce as prices soared and potatoes and onions were sold at Rs 15-Rs 40 a kg. Petrol scarcity prevented cars and two-wheelers from plying.

Eight MI choppers from the Indian Air Force requisitioned by the state government could not land at Bhubaneswar airport. However, two Chetak helicopters of the navy landed today. The IAF choppers were scheduled to carry out 24 sorties in Jagatsinghpur and Kendrapara to drop food packets.

Gamang told Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee on phone this evening that the Rs 100 crore interim relief sanctioned by the Centre was not enough. He sought Rs 500 crore for relief and a separate allocation for renovation and restoration, depending ?on the extent of the damage.? Vajpayee promised all help.

The state has also sought a week?s supply of essential relief items, including 50,000 tonnes of bread, 60,000 metric tonnes of rice, 500 metric tonnes of puffed rice, 100 metric tonnes of jaggery, 6,000 kilolitres of kerosene and 10 million metres of polythene.

In Delhi, a meeting of the Cabinet secretariat and key ministries decided to send more relief materials to Orissa.    

New Delhi, Oct. 31 
The possibility of an early meeting between Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee and Pakistan chief executive Parvez Musharraf receded today with most Saarc members favouring the postponement of a summit scheduled in the last week of November in Nepal.

An official announcement about the change of date is yet to be made, but indications are that the summit ? which would have set the stage for an Indo-Pak meeting on the sidelines ? will be held only early next year.

Some members, including India, have asked Nepal to defer the summit, citing the army coup in Pakistan as the main reason. Most members felt that no meaningful outcome was expected from the meet due to the political uncertainty in Pakistan.

Agency reports from Kathmandu quoting Nepal?s foreign ministry sources also indicated that the meet could be put off. Saarc secretary Nihal Rodrigo is in Colombo to discuss the issue with the Sri Lankan President and the chairperson of the association, Chandrika Kumaratunga.

However, the West, keen to ensure that India and Pakistan resume talks as early as possible, was banking on the Saarc summit to set the ball rolling.

The prime ministers of both the countries were expected to meet on the sidelines of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meet in Durban next month. However, with Sharif?s ouster, the army-ruled Pakistan was suspended temporarily from the Commonwealth, scotching the possibility of an Indo-Pak meeting in Durban.

Initially, India was reluctant to initiate the move to call off the summit, though Nepal and Sri Lanka wanted it to take the lead. Bangladesh also indicated that it was reluctant to give legitimacy to the army regime by allowing Musharraf to lead his country at the Kathmandu meet.

India knows that it has to return to the dialogue table sooner or later, but it does not want to make things easy for Islamabad. Musharraf is desperately looking for a forum which will legitimise his coup, and the Saarc summit was a godsend for him.

But the reading in Delhi is that though few had shed tears in Pakistan at the departure of Sharif, it was too early to predict how the people will react to a prolonged period of army rule. With a clear picture yet to emerge, India feels it can delay a return to the Lahore process.    

Soro (Balasore), Oct. 31 
The storm grazed his village, the flood swept away his home. Standing on the highway, Dambar Naik is waiting for food.

Early this morning, the first army unit from Bihar carrying relief had to stop 30 km from Bhadrak town as National Highway 5, where Naik is waiting, is four feet under water at Soro.

?We just want a few sacks of chira, but even that is not available,? Naik said. An undergraduate student, he is asking questions: ?What is the use of declaring a national calamity if we are starving even three days after the cyclone??

The thick black sky all along the Orissa coast is relentlessly battering the earth with blinding sheets of rain. The supercyclone has been followed by a deep depression.

Food packets and relief materials are stocked at several air force bases in Bengal, Bihar and Orissa. But not a single sortie could be carried out because of the weather.

The district magistrate of Balasore, A.K. Baishnav, is calling this ?the biggest disaster to hit Orissa after the Kalinga war?.

Baishnav may be exaggerating, but a war it could soon turn out to be. Anger is simmering at the lack of relief after the grand announcement from Delhi. Sporadic attacks have taken place in several places.

?We were spared by the killer storm. But the flash floods and the fury of the rains are a painful aftermath,? said Prafulla Raut, a village sarpanch at Talanagar.

Late last afternoon, the villagers found water gushing in from various sides. At night, the water level rose menacingly. The floods came so suddenly they did not have time to move to the highlands. Many are still perched on tree tops, the sarpanch said.

Huge discharges from a dam, threatening to burst, in Mayurbhanj caused the floods. The circle inspector of Balasore said: ?It (dam water level) had crossed the extreme danger limit and the discharge had to be made knowing well that it would create havoc.?

What still happened was no less than a dam burst. District officials said the spurs along the dam waterfalls gave in soon after the discharge.

As a result, the water body broke up into unregulated channels and rushed in different directions.

Nearly 50 feet of the National Highway 5, the lifeline through Balasore, Bhadrak, Cuttack and Paradip, has been washed away near Bhadrak town. Hundreds of trees have fallen on the road.

The rail track on the Kharagpur-Balasore- Bhubaneswar route, looked like a camel?s back, rising slightly above the submerged areas.

Homeless villagers were trekking down the tracks, looking for the shelter of a railway platform.

Down south along the coast, Paradip, which bore the brunt of the cyclone, remains cut off for the third day today.

Army units, which moved from bases in Bihar, are stranded at several points on the highway.

The first unit, heading for Bhadrak and Cuttack districts, arrived in Balasore from Ranchi yesterday night.

The unit commander, Major Yogpal, and two of his senior colleagues made a reconnaissance of the 2-km stretch of the highway leading to Bhadrak.

As soon as almost half of the front wheel of their jeep went under the swift currents, they retreated, abandoning the idea of proceeding any further.

By late afternoon, the unit received a message that another army column from Baripada, which was to join them at Bhadrak, had met the same fate. About 5 km away from Balasore, the convoy got stuck as flood water had breached another stretch of the highway.

?There is probably no force that can take on the might of nature,? said Major Yogpal. ?We will have to wait till the water subsides,? he added.

Dambar Naik will have to wait some more for his chira.    


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