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Monday, November 1, 1999 Published at 12:44 GMT

World: South Asia

Relief effort for cyclone victims

People have been cut off by flooded roads

Relief operations are finally gathering momentum in the eastern Indian state of Orissa for the victims of last week's devastating cyclone.

As many as 10 million people have been affected, and thousands are feared to have been killed.

For the first time since the cyclone struck on Friday, military helicopters have been flying sorties with sacks of food to the thousands of people cut off in large swathes of inundated land between the state capital of Bhubaneshwar and the sea.

BBC News' Mike Wooldridge: Food aid was held up by more bad weather
The atrocious weather since the cyclone had made even this limited operation impossible until now.

The military is taking a lead role bringing in supplies and restoring essential services to the worst-hit areas, where people are having to cope with food, water and electricity shortages.

The airport in the state capital Bhubaneshwar has reopened, and flights bringing in media, aid workers and politicians are said to have landed.

Desperate people

[ image: Relief operations are hampered by the power failure]
Relief operations are hampered by the power failure
Many areas are still cut off by the flood waters. Tom Palaqudy of Christian Aid told the BBC that the armed forces, voluntary agencies and church groups were waiting at the nearest points in the affected region, to enter as soon as possible.

There have been reports of food riots by desperate people in Orissa after days without help, and some say cars moving on a reopened highway were looted by villagers.

A state official said three warehouses of the Food Corporation of India had also been ransacked.

[ image:  ]
A train carrying 50 tonnes of medical supplies is reported to be on its way to the cyclone-hit areas from New Delhi, following the restoration of rail lines on Sunday.

Navy ships bearing food, candles, clothes and other relief materials are heading towards Paradip port in Orissa, according to a government statement.

Pratap Mohanti of AFP describes what it was like when the storm waters came...
There is no official death toll yet, but officials are suggesting that the super cyclone probably claimed thousands of lives.

Shelter is a particularly urgent need at the moment, with up to one-and-a-half million people homeless.

In total, about 10 million people have been affected by the storm, which generated winds of over 250km/h (160mph) after roaring in from the Bay of Bengal on Friday.

[ image: Thousands of soldiers are leading the rescue effort]
Thousands of soldiers are leading the rescue effort
Orissa's chief minister, Girdhar Gamang, who conducted an aerial survey of the worst-hit areas on Sunday, said he had seen nothing but water during two hours' flying.

He told the BBC that no trees or houses were visible and entire villages had apparently just disappeared.

Mr Gamang has described the cyclone as the storm of the century.

Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who called the cyclone a ''national calamity'', has announced a three billion rupee ($69m) rescue package.

Tom Palaqudy of Christian Aid:"The major problem is accessibility"
The money is in addition, he said, to a previously announced 2.5 billion rupee ($57m) package to tackle damage caused by another cyclone earlier in October.

BBC South Asia correspondent Mike Wooldridge says initial aerial surveys suggest the destruction could be even worse than a 1971 cyclone, which killed 10,000 people.

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