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Most powerful cyclone in 14 years batters India's east coast

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
October 15th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

The most powerful storm in 14 years to hit India's eastern coast has destroyed countless homes and people's livelihoods in the area. Millions of people in eastern India now need relief and rehabilitation, international aid agencies say.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - High winds and tidal waves battered the coastal area after Cyclone Phailin made landfall from the Bay of Bengal this past weekend. It is tragic - but surprisingly fortunate that only 15 people died as a result of the wild weather.

The death toll was successfully minimized due to mass evacuations ahead of time, a new problem exists. Survivors need adequate support in the aftermath, aid workers say.

"While reports of casualties are low, we shouldn't underestimate the scale of this disaster. There are millions of people who will need support to rebuild their homes and livelihoods," John Shumlansky, India country representative for Catholic Relief Services says.

Indian officials had estimated up to 12 million people living in the Phailin's path would be affected before the storm. Now. close to a million people were moved to cyclone shelters as the storm hurtled towards the coast. Some forecasters compared it to the super cyclone that struck Odisha in 1999, killing 10,000 people.

In spite of the drastically reduced death toll, the storm appears to have left a similar trail of destruction.

Gale-force winds ripped apart hundreds of thousands of mud-and-thatch houses, and storm surges and heavy rains submerged large swathes of farmland. Power lines and telecommunications towers have been damaged, and thousands of trees have been uprooted.

More than 230,000 mud-and-thatch homes were destroyed by the storm in just one district alone. Crippled communications and roads blocked by fallen trees have made assessments difficult.

Those uprooted from the storm will not be able to return home immediately. They may have to remain in overcrowded shelters where poor sanitation and a lack of clean drinking water could bring disease.

The area's true ordeal will now begin as survivors huddle together in close conditions. Outbreaks of water-borne illnesses such as diarrhea, dysentery and typhoid are common after disasters, when clean drinking water sources can be contaminated.

Water purification units, hygiene kits, stoves and blankets are needed, as well as tarpaulin sheets and tents are desperately needed to give to the temporary shelters.

Even worse is that fact that the people effected are largely from poor fishing and farming communities and have nothing to fall back on. Many have lost their homes, coconut trees and cashew nut crops, livestock and fishing boats and nets. It will take them many years to recover, aid workers say.

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