India: Sun rises on destruction after a night of Cyclone Phailin

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Gopalpur, Odisha: Tattamma and her 45-day-old son outside her home, which was destroyed by Cyclone Phailin

13 October: I heaved a huge sigh of relief this morning as the tally of fatalities in the aftermath of Cyclone Phailin remained at 14. The low death toll proves that disaster preparedness saves lives, even under the worst circumstances.

Over 800,000 people were evacuated before the storm’s landfall, some even moved forcibly from their homes into cyclone shelters that ensured their safety from the strong winds, heavy rain and storm surge.

Save the Children staff arrived at the disaster area a day before the cyclone was expected, on high alert to respond to any humanitarian needs. However, the destruction left behind by the Category 5 storm, which was packing winds of over 200km/h, will still take months to clear and repair.

Destruction

Up in one of the tallest buildings in Puri, on the Odisha coastline, I had a bird’s-eye view of the destruction: trees uprooted, telephone posts and electrical lines down and mud houses collapsed along the coastline.

Late at night, we watched the storm roll relentlessly past. We could see what was going on thanks to a generator that kept the hotel lights working even though the town’s power supply had shut down completely.

Assessing the damage

As soon as the storm passed us, Save the Children launched into action. Our team, along with local partners and government counterparts, began assessing the needs. Three colleagues headed for Gopalpur, which was where the cyclone had made its landfall and so where the most damage was expected.

With the wind and rains slowing, families began emerging from the cyclone shelters and children resumed playing on the streets. The huge sense of relief was visible on everyone’s face.

Communications lines and power remain down in the worst-affected areas, with roads blocked by fallen trees and damage to more than 200,000 homes. Large swathes of farmland have also been affected and many of the crops destroyed. This could have a huge impact on communities that depend largely on agriculture for survival.

The needs of children

In the coming days, we and our charity partners will identify what needs to be done for the worst-affected children for them to regain some semblance of normality. We know that in a situation like this, we need to ensure that children feel safe and have a roof over their heads, a blanket to keep them warm, hot food and clothes.

Having gone through a big storm like this, they could be afraid of the heavy rain or strong winds that are predicted to continue over the next few days. Working closely with the local government and other aid agencies, Save the Children will ensure that children caught up in the disaster are protected, with food, water, shelter and a safe space to play.

The storm has been fearsome but there is light in the darkness: thanks to the concerted action of government, the media, charities and the local people, countless human lives have been saved from the wrath of this cyclone.

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