Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee, who flew over Paradip and other battered coastal areas today, saw for himself the magnitude of the devastation and announced an additional grant of Rs 100 crore for relief.
The Prime Minister, who arrived in Orissa four hours behind schedule, reviewed the situation in a meeting with chief minister Giridhar Gamang, other ministers and senior officials. ?I wish to assure the cyclone-affected people of Orissa that whatever is required will be provided by us for relief operations,? Vajpayee said. Referring to the state?s demand for Rs 500 crore, the Prime Minister said: ?Let whatever money that has been given be spent first. If necessary, we will provide more funds.?
Columns of army reached out to pockets hitherto inaccessible in Kendrapara and Jagatsinghpur districts. A state government spokesman, however, admitted that rescue teams have not been able to reach even half of the 15 million affected people.
Erasama in Jagatsinghpur district, one of the worst hit, remained cut off, though the approach roads were cleared last afternoon, paving the way for a procession of bodies.
Vajpayee?s planned visit to Jagatsinghpur failed to take off after his aircraft developed a snag.
Peripheral to where the cyclone struck, Erasama is strewn with hundreds of corpses and these are only the accessible fringe areas. ?The scene further inside has to be seen to be believed,? said Erasama police station assistant sub-inspector Gouri Shyam Nayak. ?At a conservative estimate, at least 15,000 have died here alone,? he said.
No senior official from the Orissa government had visited the spot till this afternoon. Former MLA Damodar Rout was talking to villagers, who emerged today nine days after the cyclone smashed into the Orissa coast. At Erasama Chawk, they were arriving from the interiors in ones and twos in search of relief.
?I have spoken to ministers and officials. No one believes me,? Rout said. But ?it is there for everyone to see?.
Kunjakuti 400, Nagori 200, Saralpet 280, Junaghari 250, Garaharishpur 250, Padmaghori 120, Dasmatha 110, Karangi 80...such goes the count.
Fifteen-foot-high waves engulfed this area south of Paradip port. Residents said tidal waves rushed in unhindered from two mouths in the sea ? Gadadhar and Devi ? and lashed the villages. Tales of entire families ? like Gadadhar Naik?s in Balaipur ? being wiped out are common.
In Salio, Sovopat, Ghosagar and Bhajoikadia, almost 75 per cent of the 3,000-strong population has been washed away. At Kiada Haryjan, only eight of the 27 families have survived.
Saline water has contaminated all sources of drinking water. Nine villagers have died of cholera. Reports of starvation deaths are pouring in as thousands in Kendrapara and Jagatsinghpur survive on cattle fodder.
At least 30 people are reported to have died of starvation in Erasama. In Kendrapara, many villages are under 25 feet of water. The district administration admits that people are drinking flood water. ?The chances of a bigger epidemic are high,? Kendrapara deputy commissioner N.P. Mahapatra said.
After surveying the situation, the Prime Minister said his government was seeking assistance from international financial organisations. He added Hudco will provide Rs 190 crore as a soft loan to subsidise the rebuilding of the 75,000 houses that have been razed. In Calcutta, finance minister Yashwant Sinha announced a financial package for industry in Orissa.
State revenue minister Jagannath Patnaik said the money the Centre has given is ?peanuts?. A Central team, which visited the state for a quick assessment of relief measures, said there was no scarcity of relief. But the state and district administrations have not been able to coordinate their work, leading to poor distribution of relief, the team said. Vajpayee, however, said the state government is doing its job.
The hundreds who have taken shelter on the Chandikhol-Paradip expressway do not agree. ?We have not received anything from the government except a fistful of rice,? said Niranjan Das of Kendrapara, who has been living on the highway since last week.
According to health minister Partha De, Lipika Lal?s mother took her to the camp where a blo-od test showed she had malaria.
When she had the medicine prescribed by the doctor at the camp, her condition deteriorated. ?Doctors at the Chittaranjan Seva Sadan declared that she had been brought dead,? De said.
Instead of informing the police and conducting a post mortem, the relatives forcefully took away the body. ?I instructed the superintendent of the hospital to lodge a complaint with the police,? De added.
The health department has taken the incident very seriously. ?Everybody is setting up malaria camps where the likelihood of procedures and norms not being followed is very high,? the minister said. ?I have ordered an inquiry; this will not be taken lightly. A small child is involved, and this will cause grave misunderstanding among the public regarding such camps,? he added.
Trinamul spokesman Jayanta Bhattacharya said Lipika was given a course of four tablets. She was administered all the tablets at a time at home. ?In our camps, qualified doctors check patients and prescribe medicine. What happened today is not due to the camp?s fault,? he said.
Asked if it was proper for political parties to organise such camps, Bhattacharya said: ?There is no law against it and the government has no objection. Every political party organises such camps, especially where the local government is unable to provide adequate facilities.?
The girl?s father, Dipak Lal, is a taxi driver. When contacted at his D.L. Khan Road residence, he said Lipika had high fever for the past two days. ?My wife took her to the camp, 2 km away, where her blood was tested. A doctor there gave her a prescription. I bought it and my wife probably gave her four tablets. I should have taken her to a better place. I could have possibly saved her then,? Lal said.
He was busy making a casket for the burial of the child. ?Please go away. I have work to do. My daughter has to make her final journey.?
De asked the education ministers to instruct all institutions to check and clean water reservoirs to reduce the spawning of mosquito larvae.
As the Alitalia flight, with the tricolour and the Vatican?s yellow-and-white flag fluttering atop the cockpit, touched down at Palam airport at 8.04 pm, the red carpet was rolled out in a sombre, if subdued, welcome.
Strictly according to protocol, junior foreign office minister Ajit Panja received the 79-year-old Pontiff, a bouquet of white flowers in hand. But conspicuous by its absence from the welcome party was the ?bible? of all state visits.
The bible ? without which the foreign office protocol officers handling the trip and even the accredited media covering the event are all left in the lurch ? is a pocket-sized booklet which gives minute-to-minute details of the movements of the visiting VVIP.
The booklet is printed at least three or four days ahead of the visit and given selectively only to those who cannot do without it.
When the Pope arrived, officials from both South Block and the Vatican had to cope with typed sheets of the Pontiff?s programme, described by officials as ?tentative?.
Constrained by a hip fracture suffered in a fall, the Pope could not repeat his gesture of kissing the soil on arrival he had made on his first trip 13 years ago.
Tears rolled down the cheeks of many of the bishops and priests ? led by archbishop of Delhi Alan de Lastic ? as they knelt to kiss his hand.
On a request from the media, the Pope turned and waved. He had to do that a second time on demands for an encore as Panja gently led him into it.
A few minutes later, a bullet-proof Mercedes Benz sent by Rashtrapati Bhavan drove him away to the Papal Nunciate, the Vatican?s embassy here.
Security was tight at the airport, as it will be throughout his stay.
If threats by Sangh parivar outfits have darkened the backdrop to the visit, the Vatican newspaper provided provocation by voicing concern at Hindu ?fundamentalism?.
Among other things, what has held up the visitor?s final schedule here is the uncertainty over a meeting with Sonia Gandhi.
The foreign ministry, true to protocol, has taken the conventional view that it only arranges meetings between visiting heads of state or government on the one hand and the President, the Vice-President, the Prime Minister and host ministers on the other.
However, if a visiting head of state or government seeks a meeting with the leader of the Opposition, South Block takes the initiative to arrange it. In the case of the Congress leader, the Vatican has not yet sought a meeting.
The Pope will, however, meet Sonia when he walks down the receiving line at Rashtrapati Bhavan, where he will be formally welcomed on Saturday morning.
When the Pope visited India in 1986, the sole private audience he gave to any Indian was to Sonia, who was not only the wife of the then Prime Minister, but also a practising Catholic at that time.
There are other reasons as well that have delayed the ?bible?.
President K.R. Narayanan is to leave for Vienna right after the ceremonial welcome for the Pontiff in Rashtrapati Bhavan. On account of this, the President?s office demurred when the foreign ministry proposed that the Pope?s meetings with Vice-President Krishan Kant and Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee should be held in Rashtrapati Bhavan soon after the welcome ceremonies.
Narayanan?s officials said protocol required the military secretary to the President to be present on the presidential grounds as long as a visiting head of state was in Rashtrapati Bhavan. In this case, the military secretary had to be in Palam from where his boss will take off at noon on Saturday.
As a compromise it was decided that after meeting Narayanan, the Pontiff would be shifted to Hyderabad House, where he will receive Kant and Vajpayee. At 11 am, the Pope will visit Rajghat.