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Cyclone emergency continues for thousands of evacuees

1 million people sought refuge as Cylcone Phailin approached
1 million people sought refuge as Cylcone Phailin approached

Last weekend, India’s worst storm for fourteen years destroyed homes and infrastructure, and ruined livelihoods. Steps taken by local authorities have limited loss of life in Cyclone Phailin. However, as families seek refuge in temporary shelters, many are at risk from diseases such as dysentery and diarrhoea. As ever, children are particularly vulnerable.

In October 1999, a massive cyclone smashed into India’s eastern coast, tearing through the state of Orissa with winds of up to 155mph. With a death toll of around 10,000 people, it was India’s deadliest storm for nearly three decades. The disaster of 1999 hung heavy as the authorities in Orissa and neighbouring state Andhra Pradesh once again prepared for the worst.

A million flee to escape disaster

As disaster struck, the state governments performed admirably in getting the majority of people out of harm’s way. In Andhra Pradesh, 64,000 people in low-lying areas were forcibly evacuated, and across both affected states, around a million fled their homes in total.

In stark contrast to the 10,000 dead in 1999, relatively few people lost their lives to Cyclone Phailin. Only one person has been confirmed dead in Andhra Pradesh, while in Orissa, some sources suggest 36 people have died, although many estimates put the figure much lower. Most people were killed under falling trees, although one woman died when her mud hut collapsed around her.

Phailin was not as severe as expected and did not reach the “super-cyclone” status of the 1999 storm. Nonetheless, it made landfall on Saturday with winds of around 125mph, earning it the grading “very severe cyclonic storm”.

Cyclone PhailinFarmland destroyed and children at risk in temporary shelters

Despite efforts to minimise the death-toll of Cyclone Phailin, the storm caused widespread damage, destroying crops and wrecking livelihoods. A nine-foot storm surge hit various coastal towns in Orissa as well as the district of Srikakulam in Andhra Pradesh, leaving an estimated 2,000 square miles of farmland underwater. Talking to Reuters news agency, a farmer in Orissa’s Ganjam district said: “There are no farms left. Everything has disappeared into the water. There is no way a single crop will grow here now.”

There is growing concern for the many evacuees living in temporary accommodation. Although some people have begun to return home already, hundreds of thousands are still seeking refuge in shelters, poorly suited to their long-term needs. Living conditions here are unsanitary, and diarrhoea and dysentery pose a real risk, especially to children.

SOS Children in Andhra Pradesh and Orissa

SOS Children has four Children’s Villages in the states affected by Cyclone Phailin. In Visakhapatnam, home to one of our Villages, flights and train services were cancelled, and the beach sealed off as the storm was expected to make landfall. However, reports from people in the area suggest Visakhapatnam was spared all but high seas. Similarly, flights were cancelled in Orissa’s capital Bhubaneshwar, which was in the centre of Phailin’s path.

We are pleased to report that there has been no damage or casualties in any of our Children's Villages or other projects in India.

Kashmir SOS emergency relief tents

A constant presence at times of crisis

SOS Children has worked in Orissa for over 20 years. We opened our Children’s Village in Rourkela after the cyclone of 1999, providing care to children who had lost their parents to the storm. We have been a constant presence in India for over half a century, and decades of tireless work with local people has taught us how best to help at times of crisis. We were there in 1999, and we were there in 2004, when the Boxing Day tsunami destroyed families and homes. Whenever we are needed, we will be there to help Indian families.

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