India

Three months after super cyclone, Orissa begins to rebuild

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Written by Stephanie Kriner, Staff Writer, DisasterRelief.org
Three months after a super cyclone ravaged the East Coast of India's Orissa state, rotting corpses of humans and animals still lie in farm fields. Farmers said they have grown accustomed to the stench and they work around the bodies while trying to repair the damages the cyclone's floods caused in their fields. Despite the gruesome reminders of that terrifying Oct. 29 disaster, rebuilding has become a priority in Orissa.

The violent cyclone thrashed the state with sustained winds of 160 mph. It was the worst cyclone in meteorological history, with one of the highest wind speeds ever recorded - 223 mph. It lasted 24 hours when most cyclones last no longer than three. The storm hurled 30-foot waves onto shore, washing away entire villages, flattening mud huts and drowning thousands who managed to survive the powerful winds.

The cyclone also destroyed the livelihood of the coastal city's farming community - it saturated more than 1 million hectares of cropland under salty water and killed some 406,000 livestock. Millions of people who eke out their livings on the land were left homeless and without a means to survive. The cyclone struck just three weeks before the harvest; almost all the plantations in this mostly agricultural community - paddy fields, sugar cane and vegetable crops - were destroyed.

The massive disaster obliterated thousands of schools, clinics and roads. The force of the waves even ripped the clothes from people's backs. Shivering naked in the cold, they survived for days eating coconuts as they waited for help to arrive. Although the official death toll remains around 10,000, the actual loss of life is considered to be much higher.

Life also has yet to return to normal for thousands of children who survived the cyclone, UNICEF said in a recent report. Some 11,000 schools were destroyed or damaged and thousands of students have been unable to attend classes since the disaster. The U.N. agency also worries about healthcare and the spread of disease among children who can not get treatment due to the destruction of clinics in the disaster zone.

After three months of delivering emergency food, clothes and blankets to the survivors, relief agencies have begun to help the people of Orissa rebuild their cyclone-ravaged lives. The salty waters contaminated the region's abundant farmland, and farmers are struggling to recover their wrecked fields to make them fit for growing crops again.

But they are at the mercy of aid organizations to provide tools and seeds lost during the storm. After distributing rice, lentils and oil to feed hungry disaster victims, relief agencies are now doling out seeds and tools so storm survivors can become independent again. But some victims may take months before they can survive on their own. The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) will continue to feed a small group of the most vulnerable disaster victims - those who have lost breadwinners, are handicapped or elderly.

The Red Cross also will provide agricultural packages of seeds, seedlings, fertilizers, livestock and tools for 500 families, replace schools and clinics destroyed during the storm and provide building materials for 356 low-cost cyclone resistant homes.

Other organizations have launched food-for-work programs, giving food to disaster victims in exchange for their work to rebuild roads, bridges and other shattered infrastructure.

Although typhoon survivors have slowly begun to rebuild, many will never totally recover emotionally from their losses. The moments when wind and water wrecked their lives will forever be etched in their minds. During those horrible moments, children watched helplessly as monstrous waves swept away their parents. In other cases, mothers and fathers lost grip of their children's hands and harsh winds blew them into the darkness.

People who once were able to support themselves and feed their children now are begging for help. Some people simply gave up after experiencing such devastating loss. One woman, a grandmother, lost her entire family in the storm and refused to eat the few morsels on her plate, slowly starving herself to death.

Officials say that repeated disasters have pushed back development in Orissa by years, sending millions into extreme poverty. India's eastern coastline has a harsh history of cyclones, earthquakes and heat waves. Many live below starvation levels even in normal times. "You have to be blind not to see it," Orissa resident Bhav Kumar Panda told the Associated Press. "The people of Orissa are living in medieval times."

DisasterRelief.org is a unique partnership between the American Red Cross, IBM and CNN dedicated to providing information about disasters and their relief operations worldwide. The three-year-old website is a leading disaster news source and also serves as a conduit for those wishing to donate to disaster relief operations around the globe through the international Red Cross movement.

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All American Red Cross disaster assistance is free, made possible by voluntary donations of time and money from the American people. To help the victims of disaster, you may make a secure online credit card donation or call 1-800-HELP NOW (1-800-435-7669) or 1-800-257-7575 (Spanish). Or you may send your donation to your local Red Cross or to the American Red Cross, P.O. Box 37243, Washington, D.C. 20013.

The American Red Cross is dedicated to helping make families and communities safer at home and around the world. The Red Cross is a volunteer-led humanitarian organization that annually provides almost half the nation's blood supply, trains nearly 12 million people in vital life-saving skills, mobilizes relief to victims in more than 60,000 disasters nationwide, provides direct health services to 2.5 million people, assists international disaster and conflict victims in more than 20 countries, and transmits more than 1.4 million emergency messages to members of the Armed Forces and their families. If you would like information on Red Cross services and programs please contact your local Red Cross.

© Copyright 1999, The American National Red Cross. All Rights Reserved.

DisasterRelief
DisasterRelief.org is a unique partnership between the American Red Cross, IBM and CNN dedicated to providing information about disasters and their relief operations worldwide. The three-year-old website is a leading disaster news source and also serves as a conduit for those wishing to donate to disaster relief operations around the globe through the international Red Cross movement. American Red Cross disaster assistance is free, made possible by voluntary donations of time and money from the American people. To help the victims of disaster, you may make a secure online credit card donation or call 1-800-HELP NOW (1-800-435-7669) or 1-800-257-7575 (Spanish). Or you may send your donation to your local Red Cross or to the American Red Cross, P.O. Box 37243, Washington, D.C. 20013. The American Red Cross is dedicated to helping make families and communities safer at home and around the world. The Red Cross is a volunteer-led humanitarian organization that annually provides almost half the nation's blood supply, trains nearly 12 million people in vital life-saving skills, mobilizes relief to victims in more than 60,000 disasters nationwide, provides direct health services to 2.5 million people, assists international disaster and conflict victims in more than 20 countries, and transmits more than 1.4 million emergency messages to members of the Armed Forces and their families. If you would like information on Red Cross services and programs please contact your local Red Cross. © Copyright, The American National Red Cross. All Rights Reserved.