Anger grows as India's death toll from cyclone rises

Damaged homes in Puri district in India's eastern Odisha state last Friday. Millions of people have been without power or water since Cyclone Fani made landfall on May 3. The death toll in India has risen to 64, with Puri recording the most number of
Damaged homes in Puri district in India's eastern Odisha state last Friday. Millions of people have been without power or water since Cyclone Fani made landfall on May 3. The death toll in India has risen to 64, with Puri recording the most number of deaths. Angry survivors have held protests over the slow pace of relief and high prices of essential food items and water.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

NEW DELHI • The death toll from a major cyclone that hit eastern India and Bangladesh early this month rose to 77 yesterday as anger grew over millions of people still without power and water.

Cyclone Fani, the first summer cyclone to hit India's Bay of Bengal coast in 43 years, made landfall in Odisha state on May 3, packing winds up to 200kmh.

The winds damaged half a million houses, uprooted hundreds of thousands of trees and knocked out power, telecommunications and water for millions of people in one of India's poorest states.

The Indian death toll, which earlier stood at 41, shot up with fresh casualties reported from Puri and Khurda districts on Sunday.

Thirteen people also died in Bangladesh after Fani barrelled northwards.

"The toll has gone up to 64 with maximum deaths (39) reported from Puri," an official at the State Emergency Operation Centre told Agence France-Presse.

India initially won praise, including from the United Nations, for moving some 1.2 million people to safety before the storm arrived, in what Odisha's chief minister called the "biggest human evacuation in history".

But this praise has turned to anger for many local people at what they see as the slow pace of reconstruction and apathy from the authorities.

"I have lost my thatched house in the cyclone. No one from the government has come to see my damaged house," Ms Shantilata Mishra, a resident in the Puri district, was quoted as saying by the Press Trust of India (PTI) news agency.

"I do not know when they will assess the damage and give me assistance to construct my house," she said.

Angry survivors have even taken to the streets to protest against the slow pace of relief as well as high prices of essential food items and water. On Sunday, demonstrators blocking roads in Odisha's state capital Bhubaneswar said a lack of coordination among various government agencies was compounding their misery.

"There is a limit to our patience. We are being made to spend sleepless nights. We have to purchase drinking water at exorbitant prices," a protester told PTI.

Another protester said that the government had failed to provide "basic necessities such as water and power despite having promised to restore power supply by Sunday".

Odisha's Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik has said the assessment of damaged houses would begin tomorrow, and he promised financial help to affected families.

Senior officers will supervise the assessment process and "all efforts will be made to ensure that not a single beneficiary is left out", his office tweeted.

On Sunday, a nine-member team from Delhi arrived to take stock of the damage. Normally the storms hit around October and November and Fani was only the third cyclone to come off the Bay of Bengal in the summer months in 150 years.

In 1999, the same state was hit by a super-cyclone that left nearly 10,000 dead.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 14, 2019, with the headline 'Anger grows as India's death toll from cyclone rises'. Print Edition | Subscribe