Cattle carcasses add to disease threat in India

THE CARCASSES of dead cattle floated in the streets of cyclone-ravaged towns in eastern India yesterday, raising fears of disease epidemics four days after a powerful storm struck miles of coastline.

Food shortages led to riots in the state of Orissa as rescue teams struggled along impassable roads in an effort to bring aid to millions of people.

The death-toll is still unknown, as is the full extent of the damage wreaked by the cyclone, the second to hit the poverty-stricken state in less than two weeks.

State Minister Jagannath Patnaik was quoted as saying that 250 people had been killed, but officials said the figure could reach 5,000. It is feared that up to 15 million people may have been left homeless or be seeking temporary shelter.

A helicopter carrying the Defence Minister, George Fernandes, was mobbed by hungry people when it landed in the devastated fishing port of Paradip, which bore the brunt of the storm. The Indian air force dropped 31 tonnes of food yesterday, and 160,000 food parcels were being flown in.

Relief workers said there was a serious threat of cholera and other infectious diseases breaking out. "These people have been out there for four days now and, if they are drinking contaminated water, you are talking about diseases such as gastroenteritis, diarrhoea and malaria," an aid worker said.

Food was reported to have been looted from trucks stranded on the main state highway, and the army was called in to halt vandalism and looting. Thousands of people queued in the rain for kerosene and other fuel.

The special relief commissioner, D N Pandhi, was quoted by United News of India as saying: "It has virtually become impossible to mobilise the rescue and relief operations as the rivers in coastal and north Orissa are in spate and are flowing over roads, including the national highway."

The army cleared roads and distributed food, water and medical supplies across the state, but in the national press there was severe criticism of the government's efforts.

The Times of India blamed the huge loss of life on the "constraining socio-economic circumstances which obtain in India", adding that rescue operations had been severely hampered by weak logistical co-ordination and poor communications. The Indian Express said it was "tragic" that the state of Orissa "practically fell off the map of India".

Main roads and communications linking Orissa to the rest of the country were closed by the cyclone, which unleashed winds of up to 160mph and tidal surges of up to 10 metres.

Some transport links were restored yesterday, but phone lines were still unreliable. The Federal Telecommunications Minister, Ram Vilas Paswan, said another two or three days were needed before telecoms links were back to normal.

The Railways minister, Mamta Banerjee, said all rail links and railway telecoms links to Orissa had been restored, except for those to Paradip.

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