Puri, Odisha, India
October 14, 2013
I heaved a huge sigh of relief this morning (13 October) as the number of fatalities in the aftermath of Cyclone Phailin remained at a low number of 14. The low death toll from this disaster proves that preparedness saves lives, even in the strongest storms. Over 800,000 people were evacuated prior to the storm’s landfall, some even moved forcibly from their homes into cyclone shelters that ensured their safety from the strong winds, heavy rain and storm surge.
However, packing winds of over 200km/h, the destruction left behind by the category five storm will still take months to clear and repair. Save the Children staff arrived at the disaster area a day before the cyclone was scheduled to make landfall, on high alert to respond to any humanitarian needs. Up in one of the tallest buildings in Puri, I had a bird’s eye view of the destruction – trees uprooted, telephone posts and electrical lines down and mud houses collapsed the coastline. Late at night, we witnessed the storm relentlessly roll past across the street, which was visible through our windows thanks to the hotel lights, which ran on a generator even as the township of Puri (on the Odisha coastline) had had its power supply completely shut out. In the distance, I could even see a lighthouse, whose lights went on and off during the passing over of the cyclone. The screeching and howling sounds of the wind took over all our senses, with occasional flashes of swathes of water swirling in the water as they were swept on from the sea by the storm.
As soon as the storm passed us, Save the Children’s team launched into action. Our team began assessing the needs and damage in the surrounding areas, along with local partners and government counterparts. A team of three colleagues headed for Gopalpur, which was where the cyclone had made its landfall and the maximum damage was expected to be. With the wind and rains slowing, families too began emerging from the cyclone shelters and children resumed playing on the streets knowing that almost everyone survived the storm. There was a huge sense of relief in the expressions of everyone, and not just me.
From initial assessments and reports, communications lines and power remain down in the worst-affected areas, with roads blocked by fallen trees and damage to more than 200,000 homes. Large swathes of farm land have also been affected, destroying much of the crops. This could have a huge impact of communities, who depend largely on agriculture for survival.
In the coming days, along with other NGO partners we will identify the needs that have arisen from the worst-affected children to regain normalcy in their lives. We know that in a situation like this, we need to ensure that children feel safe with a roof over their heads, a blanket to keep them warm, hot food and clothes. Having gone through a big storm like this, they could be afraid of heavy rain or strong winds that are predicted to continue over the next few days. Working closely with the local government and other aid agencies, Save the Children will ensure that children caught up in the disaster are protected, with food, water, shelter and a safe space to play.
Kudos once again to the government, the media, the NGOs and the people at large, who have acted as one to ensure that countless human lives have been saved from the wrath of this cyclone.