By Saroj Pattnaik, ChildFund India
“It was past midnight. I woke up to the alarmed voice of my wife shouting, ’The house is cracking!’ We came out of our house, and it came shattering down just in front of us,” says a terrified Sangram, 45, whose thatched house collapsed on the night of Oct. 12, when Cyclone Phailin struck coastal Odisha State in India. The storm brought 124 mph winds and heavy rains.
“Had it not been for my wife’s dreadful scream, we may not have been alive today,” adds the father of six, whose children were staying in a community center that night. “It was just a matter of few seconds when the roof collapsed after a tree in my back yard fell onto it.” The multi-purpose community center was built by ChildFund India’s local partner organization VARRAT (Voluntary Association for Rural Reconstruction & Appropriate Technology) after the 1999 cyclone that killed more than 10,000 people in Odisha, then known as Orissa.
“I am thankful to the project staff who insisted that I allow my children to go to the community center, but we decided to stay here, as I underestimated the cyclone threat,” Sangram says.
Sangram’s house in Odisha’s Kendrapara district is among the 37 homes damaged by the cyclone in the area VARRAT serves. VARRAT has 827 ChildFund-enrolled children in the region, including 621 who are sponsored. Sangram’s 15-year-old daughter Gurubari is one of the sponsored children. Fortunately, none of the children were hurt, though the houses of a few were damaged.
For Gurubari, the biggest losses after her home were her textbooks, which were washed away by floodwaters that gushed through her house after it collapsed. “I don’t have a single book left,” she says. “I don’t know whether I will be able to get another book set.”
Sangram, who is waiting for government compensation for his broken house, is a fisherman by trade and had returned to the village just two days before the cyclone. Like his 200-some fellow villagers, he was asked by the project staff to move to the community center, but he decided to stay in the house with his wife at the last moment.
“I get goose bumps when I think of that night,” he says.
Before Phailin hit, VARRAT staff members visited all 25 villages where it has programs to make sure everyone was in a safe location.
“All of our field staff members were deployed to ensure that the message of the cyclone reached everyone and that all of them were evacuated ahead of the cyclone that wreaked havoc in coastal Odisha,” says Naba Kishore Mishra, VARRAT’s project manager. “We were informed about the cyclone about a week before, and ChildFund India advised us to take necessary measures to safeguard not only our sponsored children and their families, but also all villagers. And we took measures accordingly.”
History played a role as well, Mishra notes. “Since we had experienced the 1999 cyclone, we had strengthened our disaster response mechanism, and that helped this time around to save all lives, including cattle and other livestock.”
Soon after 1999’s devastating super cyclone, VARRAT took several protection measures, one of which was the construction of multi-purpose community centers — like the one to which Sangram’s children evacuated — in all their program villages. Although they had access to shelter during the recent cyclone, villagers still lost more than 75 percent of their standing paddy crop because of heavy rains. A ChildFund team has visited those villages and found that many of the villages’ roads were destroyed by flooding. Mosquitoes are breeding in the standing water, increasing the risk of malaria, dengue and other vector-borne illness, and villagers are beginning to suffer from waterborne diseases that cause upset stomachs and skin infections.
Education also has been affected because all schools and Early Childhood Development centers are currently serving as makeshift shelters or as bases for relief services. Normally, children receive lunch prepared at school or an ECD center, but this has been suspended during the disaster as well.
Representatives from VARRAT have started distributing water purification tablets and diarrhea medication in some villages, but much still needs to be done. ChildFund’s Emergency Action Fund helps us prepare for disasters in the countries we serve, allowing staff and partners on the ground to provide help quickly and also over the long term. Please consider making a donation today.