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Wednesday, October 20, 1999 Published at 17:08 GMT 18:08 UK

World: South Asia

Casualties mount in Indian cyclone

Villages and crops have been inundated in the region

At least 79 people have been killed and thousands left homeless in India's cyclone-hit east coast, causing millions of dollars worth of damage.

Most of the damage was in the state of Orissa, but neighbouring West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh states have also been affected.

As the death toll continued to rise, a workshop in Delhi has begun to discuss a five-year programme aimed at developing infrastructure for storm forecasts and warning.

Rescue effort

Army helicopters dropped food and relief packets to many people still marooned in inundated villages and towns on the Bay of Bengal coast.

[ image:  ]
In the tribal-dominated area Ganjam region of Orissa, the cyclone tore down electricity poles, brought down trees and damaged huts. Road and rail services have been severely disrupted in the region.

"Power lines have not been restored. Water supply has also been badly affected. Tankers are now supplying drinking water to the people," a state official told reporters.

Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee sent a team of government ministers to survey the damage and announced compensation worth 50,000 rupees ($1,200) to the families of those killed.

"Once the state government makes a final assessment of the total losses, the [federal government] would provide all necessary help," Federal Transport Minister Debendra Pradhan said.

Mounting toll

Thousands of people in the path of the cyclone had been evacuated, and officials said this helped to limit casualties.

[ image: Soldiers are helping the relief effort]
Soldiers are helping the relief effort
But, with large areas still out of reach of rescue officials, there were fears the numbers could rise.

"The death toll can mount as rescuers reach fresh areas," Orissa's most senior civil servant, Sudhansu Mishra, said.

Fifty-six of the deaths were in Orissa, with the worst-hit area of Ganjam accounting for 49 fatalities.

Three people were killed in the neighbouring state of Andhra Pradesh following heavy rains sparked by the cyclone.

[ image: Federal ministers surveyed the damage]
Federal ministers surveyed the damage
Most of the deaths resulted from houses collapsing and falling trees as winds reached 200km (125 miles) per hour.

On Tuesday, paramilitary troops began clearing the roads of uprooted trees to remove more than 2,000 trucks and cars stranded on the national highway linking Calcutta with the southern city of Madras.

Federal minister Naveen Patnaik called for more assistance from Delhi.

"There has been tardiness in providing relief to the worst affected areas."


Meanwhile, a week-long workshop in Delhi is being held to discuss better ways of combatting cyclonic disasters in the northern Indian Ocean region

Experts say countries bordering the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea suffer some of the world's worst natural disasters.

Proposals made by international agencies - such as Unesco and the World Meterology Commission - suggest the formation of systems that can provide effective storm forecasts to prevent any loss of life and property.

Several countries, including Bangladesh and Sri Lanka are taking part in the workshop.

More than half a million people are estimated to have died in storms off the Indian Ocean in this century alone.

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