BHUBANESWAR, India (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Floods have forced more than 85,000 people to flee their homes and seek refuge in shelters in eastern India, officials said on Friday, bringing more misery to survivors recovering from a powerful cyclone that devastated the area two weeks ago.
Cyclone Phailin, India's fiercest storm in 14 years, battered the coastline of Odisha on Oct 12, ripping apart tens of thousands of mud-and-thatch homes, inundating large tracts of farmland and disrupting power and telecoms services.
Close to 12 million people have been affected by the disaster – many losing their homes and livelihoods. The death toll stands at 53.
But as people returned to their ravaged homes and authorities began distributing aid and restoring infrastructure, heavy rains caused major rivers and tributaries to overflow, hampering relief and rehabilitation efforts.
Roads to remote areas have already been destroyed, making it difficult to reach people in need, and further rains will make routes even more inaccessible.
More than 200,000 people are stranded and 10 people died when the walls of their homes collapsed.
"The situation is serious. Water levels in all the rivers are rising. Large numbers of people are taking shelter on roof tops," said Odisha’s Revenue and Disaster Management Minister Surya Narayan Patro. "We are trying to rescue them and shift them to safer places."
The state authorities have closed schools and colleges in the flood-hit area until Monday as the heavy rains are predicted to continue over the weekend.
"Nature is cruel to us. We had expected to bring normality to the cyclone-hit area by Oct 30. Now the flood has affected the relief and restoration work," said Odisha’s Special Relief Commissioner P.K. Mohapatra.
The British charity Christian Aid says with more rains expected, those who have returned to what remains of their homes now have nowhere to shelter.
"The affected areas have seen huge damage to infrastructure and more than one million people have lost their homes and businesses," said Yeeshu Shukla, Christian Aid's Emergency Officer.
"They now face further bad weather and an uncertain future with no roof over their heads and no means to earn a living."
(Additional reporting by Nita Bhalla)