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Tuesday, November 2, 1999 Published at 15:41 GMT

World: South Asia

Eyewitness: In the eye of the storm

A satellite image of the cyclone off the Indian coast

By Vir Singh in Bhubaneswar

At the hotel I was staying in, the trees began swaying - gently at first and then more violently as the wind picked up speed.

When the cyclone reached its peak, trees began crashing to the ground.

One smashed into a small outbuilding, destroying the roof.

Orissa: After the storm
Water had started coming into all the rooms, and the hotel lobby flooded.

And then we were cut off as the phone lines went down, and mobiles stopped working.

Shortwave radio communications were all that was left.

Curiously, life didn't come to a complete halt. A few jeeps and cars could be still seen on the main roads - defying the might of the storm.

Poor bear the brunt

In the Gautam Nagar slum, Bhubaneswar, the mud walls and thatch roofs proved no match for the pounding wind and rain.

About a quarter of the huts here were completely destroyed.

"Come and see what has happened to us," said Shiba Sahoo, who makes a living by painting buildings.

Other residents joined in the chorus of complaints.

[ image: Relief operations are hampered by the power failure]
Relief operations are hampered by the power failure
"People have lost their homes, their belongings, everything, yet the government is doing nothing for us. Nobody has come here since the cyclone."

Later, some of them admitted that a relief truck had come to a nearby area to distribute essential food items such as flour, sugar and rice.


But these people knew all too well that the bulk of the struggle to get back on their feet would be theirs alone.

"Look, that's my neighbour's house," said Narasingh Charan Lenka, pointing to the remains of a mud hut.

A string cot in one corner held what few possessions remained - a few rubber tyres, plastic sheets, two folded mattresses, cooking utensils and some small boxes.

The owner, a vegetable vendor, had to be carried to hospital after the roof fell in on him.

"I didn't know how much longer my home would hold up," he said. "It's the grace of God that has allowed us to keep a roof over our heads."

[ image:  ]
Not far from the battered huts, an earth mover roared as it tried to clear trees from a major road. Some 25 police cadets, in white T-shirts and khaki shorts, moved in to clear what the machine had missed.

All over the city, street lamps and telephone and electricity poles had been dragged to the ground, their wires splayed among the foliage.

Huge billboards lining the roads were bent out of shape, some of them almost free of their concrete moorings.

Here and there, pieces of smashed asbestos roof tiles lay strewn about.

No power

Less affluent citizens queued up outside government-run shops to buy kerosene for lamps and kitchen stoves.

The word on the street was that it would take at least 10 days for Bhubaneswar's power supply to be restored.

[ image: Abandoned vehicles on one of Orissa's main roads]
Abandoned vehicles on one of Orissa's main roads
Vehicle owners, meanwhile, thronged the few functioning filling stations where petrol was being rationed. Scooter owners complained of having to wait for up to 45 minutes to buy petrol at more than 20 percent above the normal price.

A scooter rickshaw driver claimed black marketeers were selling the stuff for a 100 percent profit. "What to do?" he shrugged. "Cyclone prices."

Water shortages

Bhubaneswar had received two days of heavy rains. But the power failure led, ironically, to major water shortages. Many of those unable to pump water into overhead tanks were forced to buy the stuff from private vendors.

And even this had to be rationed.

One resident, standing in pitch darkness outside his gate, said he had not had a proper bath in two days.

"So I don't mind this rain, I suppose it's the next best thing."

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