Death-bred disease stalks survivors
Bitter-sweet govt fruit for Pope
Gallant in death, letter in blood
Calcutta weather

Paradip, Nov. 4: 
The spectre of the century?s worst epidemic looms over this township and other coastal regions in Orissa, ravaged first by the supercyclone and then the floods.

The official death toll today was 904, but with reports of diarrhoea deaths pouring in from different areas, the worst may have only just begun.

The dead and the living are existing side by side, one bloated and putrefying, the other scavenging for morsels lying by its side. Human corpses floating alongside animal carcasses is a common sight here.

At Chunah, 15 km from Paradip, a body has been floating with dead cattle for the past few days but no one has bothered to remove it.

?Who cares? Let it rot there. We don?t have the time to remove it and cremate it,? said G. Darkonda, a fisherman.

?Even street dogs have perished with the cyclone and floods,? says Darkonda, hinting that had they been alive, they could have devoured many of the corpses. Closer to the port town, one does find a handful of surviving dogs feasting on the corpses. ?They are littering the place with the limbs,? said Arun Nayak.

Just opposite Nayabazar Colony Housing Estate in Paradip, 56 corpses were dumped in a heap. Umashankar Paridh, a resident and a local businessman, said: ?If there is hell on earth, it is here.? Residents of the colony have had to put up with this horrible sight for the past few days. ?Even worse is the smell that blows in continuously with the sea wind,? said Paridh.

A couple of days ago, two men were sent by the local administration to light a mass pyre with only five litres of kerosene. The men tried but failed as the kerosene was too little. The result: half-burnt bodies lie scattered in the area.

?The stench is becoming more intense and nauseating. And these are half-baked human corpses. Can you imagine how nightmarish it is?? asked Paridh.

Officials of the Paradip Port Trust admit that the situation is heading towards an environment disaster. ?But we are helpless. We are ready to pay even Rs 500 to anyone willing to dispose of a single corpse. But no one is coming forward,? said Dilip Mishra, a senior official.

Madhuban colony, where port trust employees live, Paradip Phosphate Colony and Brindaban Colony are in no better shape. The areas around these colonies are still waterlogged. With the approaches cut off, the floating bodies cannot be retrieved.

The air is as foul as that of Nayabazar. Even the shoreline is dotted with corpses, said Kamballay, president of the local fishermen?s society. He claimed to have counted at least 18 human bodies during a survey of the seaside.

Ironically, while the slushy land was a scene straight out of hell, the sea at Paradip was a brilliant blue, the waves gently lapping the shore.

?One can hardly believe that this placid sea could unleash such fury,? murmured Devendra Kumar Das, priest of the Hanuman temple on the beach. ?Fortunately, the sea god spared my deity.? The water just stopped short of the altar.

The gods, it seems, will not spare the survivors. The first report of an epidemic outbreak arrived from Nahalpur area in Govindpur. Over a hundred villagers are sick with diarrhoea. Surendra Das and Seuli Sahu died yesterday while scores of others are gasping for life.

The district administrations in Jagatsingpur, Kendrapara, Bhadrak, Cuttack and Bhubaneswar are still struggling to distribute relief. Medical teams and drugs are virtually non-existent.

?I am an MLA of the ruling Congress but I won?t hesitate to say that the government has failed miserably to help the suffering millions,? said Bijoy Nayak of Paradip. ?Food packets air-dropped by helicopters are like a drop in the ocean.?

Areas like Erasama, Kujang, Sana Adhanga, Mahakalapada, Palamunda and Rajnagar remain cut off. People who managed to get out of these places brought tales of horror with them.

With their meagre food stock washed away, thousands of villagers are living on boiled cattle feed and tree roots. They had begun by eating raw vegetables, like papaya, gourd or pumpkin, but even these are exhausted. Coconuts took care of their thirst initially, but very few trees could be found standing upright.

Rescue and relief work are hampered by the shortage of boats, which are the only means of reaching the cut-off areas. The army and the navy have provided some boats, but not enough to help all those in need.

But help may be on the way for Paradip as the port has resumed operations six days after it fell prey to the cyclone. With the navy?s help, some order has been restored to let the first merchant vessel into the port tomorrow morning, an official release said here today.

The navy has held health camps and treated about 2,000 people. About a thousand tonnes of bleaching powder will be sent to purify water.    

New Delhi, Nov. 4 
With preparations for Pope John Paul II?s visit in its final phase, South Block is learning the valuable lesson that diplomacy ? like charity ? begins at home.

Caught between the expedient need to be sensitive to the BJP?s real feelings about religious conversions and the mandatory requirement to play host to the visiting head of Vatican state, the ministry of external affairs is walking a diplomatic tightrope.

The result of such a fine balance struck between expediency and hospitality will be evident from the moment the Pope starts the official part of his programme on Saturday morning.

After the formal reception in Rashtrapati Bhavan, attended by the President, Vice-President and Prime Minister, the Pope will leave for Rajghat where he will merely pay floral tributes to the Father of the Nation.

The Rajghat Gandhi Samadhi Committee had proposed and the church had endorsed plans earlier for a multi-religious prayer at Rajghat, a message from the Pope and the planting of a sapling by the pontiff.

Citing security reasons, the government, however, shot down the proposal. It also pointed out that since a mango sapling planted by the Pope at Rajghat in 1986 had now grown into a healthy tree, it would not be necessary for the pontiff to repeat the ritual.

To buttress this point, MEA argued that Rajghat had several frequent visitors as heads of state: the kings of Bhutan and Nepal, PLO leader Yasser Arafat, to mention a few. If they were all allowed to plant saplings each time they went to Rajghat, the Gandhi samadhi would become a veritable forest on its own.

The fine balance struck between the need to appear hospitable and the desire not to go overboard with the arrangements for the papal visit will also be obvious to Indians ? even those who are far away from the capital ? as they switch on their TV sets.

While Doordarshan?s international channel, which is inaccessible to most Indians, will telecast live all the major engagements of the pontiff, the national channel of the state broadcasting organisation will only have a 30-minute programme at 10.30 pm on Sunday on the holy mass that morning at Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium.

There had been numerous requests for live coverage of the mass especially from states which have large Catholic population, but the government decided not to honour these requests.

Doordarshan?s news channel and DD-1 will have capsules on Saturday and Sunday on the Pope?s engagements. On Saturday night, it will telecast a 20-minute report on the synod attended by the Pope at the Sacred Hearts Cathedral here.

In an unlikely concession to secularism from a government led by the BJP, DD-1 will, however, telecast live the multi-religious meeting at Vigyan Bhavan on Sunday. As the standard line from Doordarshan goes, all this is subject to change, but as of now, it will be the only programme by the Pope to be telecast live.    

Srinagar, Nov. 4 
Major Purushottam forced the three cameramen sitting in his office into a bathroom when he heard gunfire. ?Get inside, I think there is some trouble,? he told them. Then he reached for the phone, and fell to militants? bullets.

In an adjoining room, his driver Sepoy Mohammad Haq had been writing to his sister to say he was safe. ?Take care of all in the family. I am fine here,? the letter read. But before it could be completed, Haq lay in a pool of blood along with Subedar B.D. Sharma and Naik P.K. Maharana.

Two of the three militants who stormed the 15 Corps headquarters here last evening, gunning down six soldiers, were killed after troops blasted the cantonment building. Search is on for the third.

The army today clarified that it was a three-member suicide squad that struck the Badami Bagh cantonment. Earlier reports had said four militants had attacked the heavily-fortified building.

At a meeting today, the Centre decided to continue with its seek-and-destroy mission against militants in the belief that security forces have an upper hand in the valley and yesterday?s attack was an ?act of desperation? by terrorists.

Major General J.R. Mukherjee, chief of staff of 15 Corps, which is in charge of counter-insurgency operations, said the militants forced their way into the cantonment building after shooting dead two guards. The trio then scaled a wall and entered the office of the defence public relations, where they killed six soldiers, including Major Purushottam.

The 39-year-old officer had made many friends in the media during his stint at the 15 Corps headquarters. He joined the army in 1982 and remained with the infantry division till 1988. He became part of the public relations wing in June 1996 and was holding charge in Srinagar since. During the Kargil conflict, he handled journalists? visits to the war zone, not only issuing official passes to the front but also reaching money to ?broke? reporters covering the war.

Lauded as one of the finest defence public relations officers, even in death Major Purushottam lived upto his reputation with one last act of goodwill.

He saved the lives of three photo-journalists.

?It was a miraculous escape. If the militants had opened the door, we would have all been killed,? NDTV cameraman Fayaz Ahmad said. ?There was firing which continued for some time afterwards till the soldiers came in.?

Captain Praneet, ADC to Corps Commander Lt Gen Krishan Pal, led the six-member Quick Reaction Team (QRT) to the spot within 15 minutes of the attack. ?We engaged the militants in heavy fire,? the captain said. ?I was repeatedly asking the militants to surrender but they refused,? he added.

Another QRT from 13 Garhwal arrived soon. A tight cordon was laid and a fierce encounter followed. The troops finally used mortar to blast the building, ending the fighting.

The body of one militant, identified as Lashkar-e-Toiba?s district chief Abu Talha, was found in the debris and shown to journalists today. Another body is believed to be buried in the rubble.

Reporters, who were barred from the Badami Bagh area yesterday, visited the office of the PRO this morning amid heavy downpour.

Blood was splattered all over Major Purushottam?s room. His body will be taken home to Jabalpur, where he was born and his parents still live. His wife, Major Vatsa, is posted at the military hospital in Meerut. The couple have an eight-year-old daughter Pallavi.

In the adjoining room, a soldier was holding the letter Sepoy Haq had been writing to his sister. ?Pay my compliments to everyone at home and tell them I am fine,? it said.    

Temperature: Maximum: 31.2?C (+1) Minimum: 23.6?C (+4) Rainfall: Nil Relative humidity: Maximum: 96%, Minimum: 57% Today: Partly cloudy sky. Mainly clear night. Fall in night temperature. Sunset: 4.54 pm Sunrise: 5.47 am    

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