Killer winds ravage eastern India

Click to follow
The Independent Online

By Bikas Das in Baleshwar

By Bikas Das in Baleshwar

31 October 1999

A FIERCE cyclone cut off a vast section of eastern India yesterday, knocking out power and telephone lines and flattening thousands of homes.

Giridhar Gamang, the Chief Minister of the coastal state of Orissa, said the death toll "could be thousands". Seawater up to five feet deep has inundated the coast as much as 10 miles inland from the port of Paradip.

A day after the cyclone roared in from the Bay of Bengal, the area was still inaccessible and all communications were severed. Villagers poured out of the hinterland, fighting whiplash rain as they herded their cattle with them to seek high ground and shelter. An estimated 1.5 million people may have been displaced or affected by the storm, the second deadly cyclone in less than two weeks to devastate the Orissa coast.

Rescue operations were thwarted as the storm continued to pound the area for the second day. Air-force helicopters and ground troops waited for a break in the weather to give them a chance to deliver food relief. Local reports said two-thirds of Baleshwar district was submerged. Districts further south could only be worse. "You can't imagine the damage," Mr Gamag said on Friday.

Details of casualties and damage were unavailable. Even the national weather bureau was blinded when its satellite warning system was destroyed.

Nearly 300 army engineers and doctors dispatched by land from West Bengal began rescue and relief work. On Friday, 2,000 soldiers were flown to Orissa's state capital, Bhubaneshwar, to help with rescue operations.

"This is not an ordinary cyclone," said R R Kelkar, director-general of the Indian Meteorological Department. "This is a supercyclone".

Mr Kelkar said the cyclone, with winds of up to 155 mph, crossed Paradwip early on Friday, weakening as it moved inland and headed slowly in a north-north-easterly direction. It dumped heavy rain on a broad band of northern India and Bangladesh, he said.

Only two weeks ago a cyclone battered Orissa, killing 100 people and injuring 1,000.