Report from Cyclone hit area of Odisha We started early morning off to Berhampur and could see visible signs of the more serious damage caused by #Phailin just as you pass Balugaon and come down the ghat at Keshpur. Its all around you. Trees uprooted, roofs of houses damaged, electrical infrastructure badly destroyed. Stopped at the Panjabi dhaaba in Rambha and overheard a local saw mill owner complaining about his massive losses and giving the story of how he has been helping people who have been bringing him fallen trees by handing out what ever amount he could and issuing credit notes. Just as I was being sympathetic to the man, the paanwaala with out batting an eyelid accused him of being the main culprit behind the destruction of the coastal forest cover which accentuates the impact of cyclones! As we approached Chhatrapur, the feeling was that of a parched earth with stumps of trees sticking out as if entire forests have been through a razing fire. Chhatrapur presented a shocking picture of destruction and the collectors office area seemed to have been hardest hit. We briefly caught up with colleagues who had come earlier and now engaged by the district admin in animal carcass removal work. Didnt disturb Dr. Krishan Kumar who was as expected busy with the district officials in a meeting. Having had seen him in action in the Kandhamal riots aftermath, I have enormous personal respect for the sincerity and work ethic of the person. As we left fore Berhampur, one couldnt but notice the gigantic mobile towers completely wrecked and on the ground while a couple of smaller ones had survived the storm well. Several high tension electric towers had also caved in while others remained in tact. How ever a large number of prestressed concrete electric poles had snapped mostly from the base. These structural failures are important case studies for Engineers to figure out the defects in design and construction that would have caused their performance and hopefully will lead to improvement during restoration. In Berhampur we met up with a small AAP team and planned our work during the day. The biggest blessing after the cyclone has been the relatively dry weather which allowed for most urgent clean ups and tree cutting work that allowed people a semblance of a return to normalcy in quick time. Berhampur presented a picture of a city trying to get back to routine life in quick time. People seemed to go about their daily routine almost unperturbed. The prevention of loss of lives unlike in 1999 and the dry weather had managed to restore the spirit of the people much quicker! The immediate task on hand was to visit a couple of worst hit slum areas of Berhampur where loss of shelter was almost absolute and people were going about restoring the broken dwellings as best as they could while bitterly complaining about lack of relief and help. One of our team focused on distributing relief while the other arranged a generator that was mounted on a Tata Ace to go around the locality and help people with water supply etc. The newly elected independent corporator of the area was hard at work helping residents. While I set off riding pillion on a two wheeler to travel through Gopalpur area. I was expecting the worst and the signs were ominous on the way to the town, but thankfully the damage to houses was minimal and the given the storm surge was not quite as high as predicted, the beach front of Gopalpur was spared the most serious damage. Even the nearby fishermens village was almost back to normal. Most of the dwellings being pucca must have helped a lot and the design of these row houses are such that even the odd kutcha houses in - between the pucca houses go spared to a large extent. Talking to the fishermen we learnt that only a few boats had been washed away and a few more had sustained damage. We moved on to more interior areas on the way to Chhatrapur. These areas showed signs of more serious damage to trees and electric infrastructure. I suspect that eye of the storm must have been closer to Chhatrapur than Gopalpur. Berhampur university campus and Indian Rare Earths campus revealed serious damage to large structures with roofs and cladding blown away. Several villages in the area had extensive damage to housing infrastructure. We spoke to many people on the way who were anxiously waiting for plastic sheets and further relief. By the time we reached collectors office again it was almost dark and Dr. Kumar was still hard at work receiving visitors and relief seeking villagers and VIPs. Had a very quick meeting to congratulate him on the good work, learnt of his plans to provide plastic sheets to 2.4 lakh households and 50kg of rice and 500/- ex-gratia to every household who wanted it. That would certainly go a long way, how ever I wish Government would have sent these resources to panchayats ahead of the storm for immediate distribution. The delay in immediate aftermath can be a serious cause for grief for the most downtrodden. I understand that each sarpanch is supposed to have 1 lakh rupees of discretionary fund, but I am not sure if these funds are utilised effectively if at all. Strenthening the panchayatiraj and Gramsabha can be only answer for the delay in getting help to people and making them self-dependent in quickest possible time in the aftermath of a disaster. One of the learning from the visit was that people must be helped with grants and soft loans to re-build all the kutcha houses in to pucca houses and electricity companies must be helped and made accountable for their capacity to instal quality infrastructure and its quick restoration in the aftermath of a future such incident.
Posted on: Thu, 17 Oct 2013 03:53:47 +0000
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