Relief slowly reaches India's desperate

BY DANIEL R. GANGLER | BHUBANESWAR, India | November 4, 1999


With millions of people left stranded, homeless, and hungry after a huge cyclone struck India over the weekend, relief efforts

are slow to alleviate the desperate situation. Still-marooned survivors, standing water containing hundreds of dead bodies, and a

heavily damaged infrastructure have made it difficult for relief supplies to reach those in need.

But emergency supplies have begun to arrive. Plastic sheeting for temporary shelters, food, candles, and matches have been

sent through the Action by Churches Together (ACT) rapid response fund. Churches' Auxiliary for Social Action (CASA), the

relief arm of the Council of Churches in India based in Delhi, is also distributing tarps, food, and medical supplies.

Both organizations are working through partner denominations based in the U.S. and other countries.

A crescendo in response efforts will be needed in order to bring the country out of chaos, according to relief officials and the

government of India. ACT has reported that it will likely issue a second appeal for $3 million to meet the overwhelming needs.

The cyclone, which passed through the Bay of Bengal in eastern India, was one of India's worst storms in 22 years. The storm's

160-mph winds were followed by three days of torrential rain that left an estimated 5,000 people dead and more than 10 million

homeless. The cyclone affected an 85-mile area 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.

"It is always painful to hear when disaster hits the most poor and those who already have very little," said Dr. Belletech Deressa,

director for international development and disaster response for the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA).

ELCA is among the ACT partners responding to the disaster, which also include the United Methodist Committee on Relief

(UMCOR), Church World Service, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ),and other Protestant and Orthodox relief organizations.

Catholic Relief Services (CRS), 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, CRS executive director. "We are committed to aiding the many victims by covering their shelter, sanitation, and

health needs."

CRS is responding to the crisis by providing on-site assistance together with its Catholic partners in India. It has sent staff

members from its 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 headquartered in Michigan and specializing in medical and pharmaceutical

relief, is also responding to India's need. According to Sonny Enriquez, 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."

Riots are still erupting as thousands go without electricity, drinking water, and fresh food. Cuttack, the second largest city in the

state, was still under six feet of water nearly a week after the cyclone struck.

"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 United Nations (UN) is mobilizing a disaster assessment team to assist UN agencies in the country with damage assessment

and coordination of 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.

The cyclone came on the heels of another storm which struck two weeks earlier.

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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