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.