Millions are homeless after storm in India

BY DANIEL R. GANGLER | BHUBANESWAR, IndiaBHUBANESWAR,BHUBANESWAR, | November 3, 1999


Government relief troops finally were deployed today after a relentless cyclone passed through the Bay of Bengal in eastern

India this past weekend leaving millions of people hungry and homeless. The government of India has declared a state of

emergency and has appealed for assistance.

On Friday, Oct. 29 one of India's worst storms in 22 years with 160 mph winds followed by three days of flood-producing rains

left at least an estimated 5,000 people dead and more than 10 million homeless. The cyclone affected an area stretching 85 miles

along the coast of southeastern Orissa state. Hundreds of acres of farmland were inundated with sea water.

In Bhubaneswar, the capitol of Orissa state, 200,000 people -- nearly one of every six residents -- lost their homes. Entire slums

were swept away, according to Press Trust of India. Food riots erupted on Saturday. The city was without electricity, drinking

water and fresh food. Cuttack, the second largest city in the state, was still under six feet of water in some places today.

An army infantry division of about 10,000 troops was put on emergency relief-and-rescue duty on Sunday. The troops sent dry

rations and first-aid kits by boat to about 2,000 survivors marooned near Baleshwar.

"This is the worst flooding in 100 years. I would say it's the worst in India's history," said Asim Jumor Vaishnov, the chief

administrator of Baleshwar. He is in charge of relief operations in and around the district. He estimates the cyclone's damage

would surpass $2.3 billion.

India's Central Relief Commissioner Bhagat Singh said heavy loss of life and property is expected.

One government official reported the death toll could reach 3,000 to 5,000 victims and estimated 2,000 coastal villages were

washed away by devastating tidal waves as high as 40 feet.

The official death toll was reported at 172 people but it is climbing by the hour. Other news reports confirmed over 230 deaths.

The United Nations said Monday it was mobilizing a disaster assessment team to assist UN agencies in the country with damage

assessment and coordinating international disaster relief. Secretary-General Kofi Annan was distressed by the devastation that is

reported to have affected more than 10 million people in eight districts of the Indian State of Orissa, according to a UN

spokesman.

In Geneva, Switzerland, the International Red Cross appealed for $2.65 million to bring emergency aid to the homeless.

On Monday church response organizations were beginning to respond to the Indian cyclone tragedy.

The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) and other Protestant and Orthodox relief organizations like Church

World Service, have an established relationship with Churches' Auxiliary for Social Action (CASA), the relief arm of the Council

of Churches in India based in Delhi.

UMCOR official Paul Dirdak, based in New York City, said he was delighted that such an arrangement exists. "UMCOR can

respond immediately to the needs presented by such a disaster as the cyclone in India," said Dirdak. "In the weeks ahead,

UMCOR will be in contact with CASA as relief needs are made known." United States-based denominational relief organizations

contribute to the relief budget of CASA.

CASA and Lutheran World Service\India, local implementing ACT partners, already are providing temporary shelter, food

rations, blankets and other emergency aid to thousands of the most vulnerable families and are now expanding their operations

to assist thousands more. ACT is expected to expand its earlier appeals from $600,000 to $3 million to cover relief efforts from

this and another storm which struck just two weeks ago. Week of Compassion will likewise increase its response to support the

relief operations of church partners in India.

Catholic Relief Services, based in Baltimore, announced it is committing an initial $50,000 to the relief efforts in India within two

weeks.

"After having witnessed the terrible pain and suffering a hurricane can bring in our own country this year, we are standing by

the people of Orissa to help them cope with the vast destruction they have suffered following these two storms," said Kenneth

F. Hackett, Executive Director of Catholic Relief Services. "We are committed to aiding the many victims by covering their

shelter, sanitation and health needs."

Catholic Relief Services is responding to the crisis by providing on site assistance together with its Catholic partners in India. It

has sent staff members from their Calcutta and Hyderabad zonal offices to team with counterparts and visit the cyclone-affected

area for a needs assessment and emergency response preparation. The agency has a total of five offices there located in Delhi,

Lucknow, Calcutta, Hyderabad and Mumbai.

International Aid, a faith-based relief organization based in Michigan and specializing in medical and pharmaceutical relief, is also

responding to India's need. According to Sonny Enriquez, IA's Disaster Relief Coordinator, "We are currently checking for local

church partners in Orissa. We hope to respond with compassion to the hurting people in the devastated areas with needed relief

supplies as quickly as possible."

India's Navy and Air Force intensified operations today, lifting food, medical supplies and restoration equipment from different

parts of the country and flying these to Bhubaneswar. A government train carrying 50 tons of medical supplies was on its way

today to cyclone-hit areas from New Delhi after rail lines linking Bhubaneswar with the rest of the country were restored.


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