Spread of disease is one of the biggest concerns as relief efforts gear up after Cyclone Phailin hit eastern areas of India at the weekend. Initial government estimates estimating 8 million people have been affected and 200,000 to 350,000 homes damaged or destroyed.
Caritas India staff and their local partners are assessing the damage in Andhra Pradesh and Orissa states. Caritas ground personnel say that a majority of the impact is on property, assets, telecommunications and the disruption of the natural environment.
Caritas India says people have started slowly moving back to the villages from cyclone shelters. The water has entered many villages leading to possible hygiene concerns. Efforts are underway to contact laboratory testing units, to ensure outbreak of disease can be controlled.
Prior to the cyclone making landfall, the local government and many aid agencies coordinated the country’s biggest evacuation in 23 years with more than 900,000 people moved from low-lying coastal areas to nearly 250 emergency shelters in schools and government offices. This massive evacuation helped keep reported casualties low thus far.
CRS, the American Caritas member, was involved in the evacuation efforts. John Shumlansky, CRS’ country representative in India, said that, “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. CRS, the local Church, our sister Caritas agencies and other partners will work with the government to determine how we can help the poorest families as they begin that process.”
Kirti Mishra, Catholic Relief Services India’s operations manager based in Bhubaneshwar, spent the night in her home about 35 miles from the coast. “This morning when I left my home, it looked so devastating,” she said. “I could see roads blocked with uprooted tree and response teams clearing the roads. Houses made of mud and bamboo were the worst hit and homes in the slums have completely collapsed and roofs are blown away.
“Tomorrow I’ll be in the field helping with assessments and determining how CRS can best help. I’m looking forward to visiting some of the people who we help through long-term development projects and seeing how they fared in the cyclone. Catholic Relief Services and the local Church will walk with them through this emergency and continue the important work we’re doing in our ongoing projects.”