Flood fury: Thousands still stranded in Odisha

Bhubaneswar, Oct 16 (IANS) Thousands of people have been stranded for the third consecutive day Wednesday in Odisha after massive floods triggered by Cyclone Phailin swamped their homes, officials and witnesses said.

People took shelter on roof-tops, embankments and higher places, as officials and volunteers made efforts to reach them food and other relief materials.

The flood water has receded in many areas, but the situation continues to be grim in the worst-hit Balasore district, officials said.

"Things are totally under control. No new area has flooded over. Some 96,000 flood affected people (in Balasore district) are getting relief," Arabinda Kumar Padhee, revenue divisional commissioner (central), who is supervising relief and rescue operations, told IANS.

"The flood has affected about seven lakh people in the district. The number of those stranded may be about 12,000," he said.

Heavy rain brought on by Cyclone Phailin that hit the state coast Saturday night triggered floods in Balasore, Mayurbhanj, Jajpur, Keonjhar and Bhadrak districts. More than a million people were affected when water from major rivers and their tributaries submerged low-lying areas and entered habitations, officials said.

The army, the National Disaster Response Force, the Odisha Disaster Response Force and state police were continuing relief operations in flooded areas.

The government claimed flood water was receding, and said food and relief was being provided to the needy. Witnesses, however, disputed some of the government's claims.

"I have taken shelter here with my family. Except some dry flattened rice, officials have given us nothing," said 45-year-old Sukanti Tudu, a woman who has taken shelter on a national highway near Balasore along with hundreds of others.

"Some private individuals gave us food. That is what we survive on," she told IANS.

Tudu, along with eight others in her family, including children, has been living on the highway for three days. She said it was days since the family had a full meal.

"I visited more than a dozen villages in worst hit Balasore district. It was a super flood. The government was not prepared. They don't have required food for the victims. There are places where not a single government official has reached," former water resources minister and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Bijoy Mohapatra told IANS.

"Large numbers of people are living without food and water for the past three days," he said.

Hundreds of flood victims blocked roads and staged angry demonstrations in parts of Mayurbhanj and Khurda districts to protest alleged irregularities in the distribution of relief material.

Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik reviewed the situation and ordered officials to book those involved in the plunder of relief materials under the stringent National Security Act.

Patnaik also wrote a letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh asking him to release an additional Rs.1,000 crore advance from the central government for relief and restoration work in the areas affected by the cyclone and subsequent flood.

"I request you to release an advance of Rs.1,000 crore over and above the corpus of Rs.523 crore available in the State Disaster Response Fund for 2013-14 for relief and restoration work of immediate nature," Patnaik wrote to the prime minister.

"A detailed report in the form of a memorandum shall be presented after assessment of the damage," said the letter, which was sent Wednesday.

The severe tropical cyclone in the Bay of Bengal struck Saturday night near Gopalpur in Ganjam district, and has left a trail of destruction in the coastal districts of the state.

Although damage to properties was estimated at several crore rupees, the loss of lives was minimal compared to the 1999 super cyclone that left over 10,000 dead.

The toll from the latest cyclone and flooding rose to 36 as the government Wednesday confirmed eight more deaths due to floods.

The worst cyclone affected districts are Ganjam, Puri, Gajapati and Khurda, while the worst flood hit districts are Balasore, Bhadrak, Keonjhar, Mayurbhanj and Jajpur.

Pradeep Mohapatra, state Special Relief Commissioner, told IANS that the government is yet to assess the losses caused by the disaster.

The state energy department said loss to the power sector alone, according preliminary assessment, is about Rs.900 crore.

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