India Cyclone Death Toll May Exceed 2,000

Report
from Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
Published on 11 Nov 1996
EAST GODAVARI, India (Reuter) - A brutal cyclone that struck the southeastern coast of India may have killed more than 2,000 people, twice as many as previously thought, local reports said on Sunday.

The Asian Age newspaper reported that more that 2,000 inhabitants of fishing villages were feared to have died in the devastating winds, rain and tidal waves that lashed the coast four days ago.

A statement issued on Sunday by V. Veera Raju, president of a local fishermen's organisation, also said 2,000 men and 150 boats were missing.

The centre of the disaster was the village of Balusutippa in Andhra Pradesh state from where 1,000 men had set sail on Wednesday, ignoring cyclone warnings.

Local journalists reported that police had confirmed 476 deaths in and around Balusutippa, a village of 10,000 people in the area of the Godavari river delta.

They said decomposed bodies were being cremated on the shore after identification in order to conform with customs not to bring the dead into the village.

An official at the relief centre in the state capital Hyderabad said there would be no update in the official tally until bodies had been identified and registered.

The exact toll may never be known.

One Balustippa man gavea a chilling account of how he saw the rest of his family perish.

"When our tents were blown away we ran towards a tall tree," Dantupalli Suri Babu said.

"I turned my dhoti (robe) into a rope and tied my family to prevent them being washed away. I climbed a tree and saved my life. But my wife, three sons and a daughter drowned."

Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda flew over the flooded paddy fields and coconut groves on Sunday to assess the devastation to a region known as the rice bowl of Andhra Pradesh.

Bodies were being recovered from collapsed houses, fields, the canals that crisscross the land, and the shoreline.

Makeshift camps were sheltering hundreds of thousands of evacuees whose houses were destroyed or severely damaged.

Relief workers were still struggling to reach outlying fishing villages, marooned by flood waters, while aerial surveys showed some communities were completely submerged.

"It is unprecedented and unimaginable," state Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu said in Rajahmundry.

Officials said preliminary estimates of the losses due to damage in the paddy fields, coconut groves and property at around
50.4 billion rupees ($1.41 billion).

In 1977, a cyclone killed 10,000 people, in 1990 another 967 died and in June this year 120 lives were lost from cyclone disasters.

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