Cholera spreads among victims of India's cyclone

THE GOVERNMENT of the flood-stricken Indian state of Orissa was warned yesterday of epidemics in regions still under water six days after a supercyclone battered the eastern coastal plains.

The commander of the task force set up to organise the relief effort, A S Klair, said he alerted the state government to outbreaks of gastroenteritis in Kakatpur and Asdarang, 50 miles east of the state capital Bhubaneshwar.

Unofficial reports say that cholera is also spreading in those districts and in Jagatsinghpur, about 25 miles east of Bhubaneshwar. The communities have had no drinking water since the cyclone hit last Friday, and people have been using floodwater contaminated by rotted carcasses. Observers say hundreds of bodies, animal and human, are lying in the open or in the water.

So far, 924 deaths have been confirmed, mostly in Jagatsinghpur, followed by nearby Puri and Cuttack. The final toll will be in the thousands.

With the stench of death in the air, authorities in the port city of Paradip could not to wait for relatives to claim decomposing bodies on the beach and organised a mass cremation. In other areas, people took it upon themselves to cremate the dead, fearing disease.

Now 5,000 troops are clearing roads and organising aid drops. The army and air force helicopters concentrated on the isolated areas where an estimated seven million people remain marooned by the 20ft tidal waves and flash floods.

The army has air-dropped a total of 274 tons of food in 112 sorties in the past three days. But authorities say that it will be days before the effects of the food drops are felt. Naval vessels were ferrying assistance to coastal Jajpur district, whose residents are separated from the mainland by eight miles of floodwater. Soldiers have been struggling for the last two days to reach Ersama, near Paradip, and asked the navy for help.

Power has been restored to one-fifth of the homes in the state capital and some phone links are working. But the heavily indebted state government is already overwhelmed by the task of coping with the disaster. "We are trying to speed relief operations but infrastructural problems make it difficult," the state Chief Minister, Giridhar Gamang said. "We have asked the government for extra funds."

The United Nations children's fund, Unicef, has sent in 120 tons of medicines and other supplies. Officials say the most critical needs are food, medical supplies, water purification and storage materials, shelter, blankets and clothing.

The agency has also supplied four tractor-mounted compressors for flushing out tube wells, and deployed 15 mobile medical teams to distribute emergency supplies. The cyclone also destroyed millions of doses of Unicef polio vaccines which had been stored in Orissa.

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