Life after Fani

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It has been a month since Cyclone Fani hit the coastal areas of Odisha. Recently, a team from IIT Kharagpur visited one of the worst affected places, the heritage town of Puri and nearby areas to deliver relief materials.

The Institute which has been taking a leadership role in transforming the country’s education and industrial environment is also known for making holistic efforts towards public welfare activities carried by its students and campus residents to uplift the lives of the lesser privileged ones. Lending support towards Fani victims was no exception with the Office of Registrar at IIT Kharagpur leading a fundraising campaign to donate to Chief Minister’s Relief Fund of Govt. of Odisha followed by another campaign to collect relief materials by a team under the aegis of Dean, International Relations and President, Technology Students Gymkhana. The students who stayed back after their examination for sports practice, went door to door in the campus to collect the materials. The enthusiastic contributors even ran to the nearest market to buy fresh ready-to-eat food items, sanitation products, medicines etc. The campaign spread its wing to Kolkata, with some schools in the vicinity of the IIT Kharagpur Extension Centre in the city, donating materials at the Centre. Contributions also came in the form of good gesture from small enterprises in the campus – while the local transport company in the campus, helped carry relief materials from Kolkata free of cost, a supplier of electronic goods and consumables, facilitated purchase and logistics of solar lanterns foregoing its supplier’s charges. 

And after days of efforts, a 5-member team from the Institute visited the District Collectorate at Puri to handover the collected materials. The District Collector Shri Balwant Singh, IAS and the District Social Security Officer welcomed the team and briefed about the relief and rehabilitation work which has been keeping busy. More than 100 NGOs have been working with them and life around Puri seems to be returning to normalcy with the rehabilitation work in full flow. 

The government has adequately met the food requirement but there are other necessities such as power supply, health and hygiene. The basic power requirement, pointed out an official, could be met temporarily through solar-powered equipment. Several PSUs and corporate houses too are making efforts to normalize life. While some donated thousands of pieces of solar lanterns, others contributed mosquito nets and polythene sheets to mend broken roofs. But the quantity required is much higher to cover a substantial size of the population. 

As the team moved around the town, it observed traces of damaged buildings and fallen trees. But compared to the massive landfall, the town seemed to be quite healed, thanks to the PWD of Puri. “The town has undergone repair and restoration work at such a pace that the visitors could barely spot the damages to government buildings and roads including the District Collectorate building which was completely shattered,” said Mr. P. Samantara, Executive Engineer, Puri (R&B) division.

He facilitated the team to visit a cyclone shelter at Penthakota which was designed by Prof. S K Bhattacharyya and Prof. G C Mitra of IIT Kharagpur in 2003. Purna Chandra Muduli, Assistant Engineer at PWD who greeted the team at the location narrated his experience of the first 15 days after Fani’s onslaught. About 2000 people took shelter at this structure. There were more in the nearby primary schools. The victims were given meals twice a day. 

Among the many who took refuge at this shelter during those fateful days were Padmavati Sahoo and her family of seven. They still reside at the shelter, especially during night time. “My house has been completely devastated. During the day I work to fix the roof of the house and spend the night at the shelter. I hope we would receive support to rebuild my house,” she said.

Muduli told the team about similar fate of many such families in nearby villages. He took the team to a nearby slum at Penthakota which fell at the way of the cyclone. The outer walls of the college hostel building give witness of the violent marks of the sand-bursts brought by Fani.

There stood Ganesh Das, a daily labourer from Chandanpur village, requesting an audience. Das who used to drive a trolley earning about ₹200/- a day, has not been getting enough work since the cyclone. He is now depending on temporary jobs. Along with Das, there were several other slum dwellers whose huts have been ravaged by Fani. The government has been providing them ration and some monetary allowance for livelihood. In his broken English learnt from foreign tourists, Das hoped business to return to normalcy so that he would be able to send his family enough money.

While the state government has made exemplary efforts in warning the localites and transferring them to the cyclone shelters, a localite from Bhubaneswar opined that floating the idea about the intensity of the cyclone, being higher than Titli but lesser than Phailin, may not have been good as people overlooked the cyclone warnings. But as pointed by an IMD expert, this cyclone became intense in the last 12 hours prior to its advent due to the effect of summer heat in the Bay of Bengal, unlike both Phailin and Titli which made landfall in the month of October in 1999 and 2018 respectively. A member from the IIT team recalled how the weather at Kharagpur turned bad suddenly several hours before time on the night of May 2. As the waves rose to a height of 10 feet and even the top storeys of the buildings near the beach were getting filled with sand, the residents of Puri kept their fingers crossed recalling the 30 feet high waves during Phailin. Many rushed to the nearby cyclone shelters while many more were assisted by the local administration.

But one whip of nature was countered by another. The 30-km long stretch of Casuarina forests along with other trees in the area emerged as life saviours by standing guard to the rage of Fani. Though not blocking the roads anymore but the uprooted trees could still be seen. “I can barely see the beautiful green cover of Bhubaneswar after the landfall,” observes Dr. Sushant Panda from the IIT team who is a native from the city. Similar was the scene at Puri.  The trees which survived the wrath are waiting for the monsoon to grow new leaves and leaves and breathe life back into them.

But for the locals, this is a matter of apprehension. With damaged huts, they are hoping for appropriate aid to live through the season.

An admirable thing to be noted though was the air of optimism despite the devastation and loss of property, livelihoods. A local from the Penthakota slum wittily suggested that donors should consider making an online fund transfer to his Rupay bank account which he opened sometime back using his Aadhaar card. This statement he made with a knowing smile before mixing in the crowd who came forward in a slow walk with the only request, that their story and the stories of many like them be told so that more people would come forward to help rebuild their lives while they thatch their roofs.

Executive Engineer Mr. Samantara concurred with this optimistic attitude of the people. “Despite all odds, you could see the administration and local people gearing up to live up to their fame for the world famous Rathyatra which is scheduled next month,” he beamed pointing towards the heritage of Puri.

Click Here to Donate to Odisha Chief Minister’s Relief Fund

Acknowledgments:

IIT Kharagpur: Offices of Director, Deputy Director, Dean International Relations, President, Technology Students Gymkhana and Registrar, Dr. Narayan Chandra Pal (alumnus), Dr. Sushant Panda (Senior Sports Officer)

Puri Administration: Office of Executive Engineer, Puri (R&B division), Office of District Collector, Puri

Photo Courtesy: Anirban Biswas, Shreyoshi Ghosh

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