BHUBANESWAR, India (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Thousands of people were left stranded by floods on Tuesday as the powerful cyclone which pounded the east coast over the weekend moved inland, bringing heavy rains and hindering rescue and relief operations, aid workers and officials said.
Cyclone Phailin, India’s fiercest storm in 14 years, smashed into the coastline of Odisha on Saturday, inundating large swathes of farmland, ripping apart mud-and-thatch homes and disrupting power and telecoms services.
Even as Phailin weakened while moving across the country from the Bay of Bengal, its incessant rains caused major rivers and tributaries to overflow, submerging villages and stranding thousands of people, aid agency officials said.
“Along the coast, we experienced the cyclonic winds which have left millions of people in need of emergency aid. Now the rains are flooding other parts and we have to respond there,” said Mangla Mohanty, head of the Indian Red Cross in Odisha.
“It’s very challenging. Those affected by flooding are equally vulnerable and we have to stretch our resources and ensure all those that need help get it.”
More than 250,000 people were stranded on Monday when rivers broke their embankments and swamped large tracts of land in districts such as Balasore, Mayurbhanj and Bhadrak.
Many areas were inaccessible by road, forcing emergency teams to use boats to rescue people and deliver relief supplies. Helicopters dropped dry food packets to marooned survivors, many of whom had taken refuge from six-feet-deep water on the rooftops of buildings.
“About 20,000 people still remained marooned here. More people are likely to be affected as the waters may flood more areas,” said Balasore Revenue Divisional Commissioner Arabinda Kumar Padhee. “The situation remains grim.”
Five people were killed by the floods in Odisha and seven in the neighbouring state of Bihar, which is on high alert after experiencing incessant rains. The total death toll from Phailin now stands at 33.
Authorities in Bihar said the constant rain of the past 36 hours had disrupted road and rail services and led to power blackouts in some parts of the state.
“We have issued an alert across the state and directed the district magistrates (administrative heads) to be ready with rescue teams,” said Vyasji, Bihar’s disaster management secretary.
Additional reporting by Nita Bhalla in NEW DELHI and Manoj Chaurasia in PATNA; writing by Nita Bhalla