Bengal Cyclone relief 2009
Naginabad Village, 1st June 2009
A member of the local Panchayat showed me around the island which was surrounded by rivers and backwaters on either side. He pointed out the huge breach in the embankment in one place through which the major quantity of salt waters had entered the villages, inundated the fields with salt water, washed away roads, cattle, stocks, grains, etc and also demolished houses. A statement often heard was that it was a blessing that the flooding of the villages took place in the day time. Had this calamity happened at night there would have been an innumerable loss of life, as most of the people slept outdoors and would have been easily washed away. The embankment around that village was made up of mud and so could not withstand the ferocity of the waves surcharged with high wind speeds and just collapsed/caved in at hundreds of places exposing the villages to the ferocity of the cyclonic waters. In a short span of time 100’s of villages had collapsed totally leaving the people with nothing else but the clothes on their back.
It was sad to see children and elderly suffering in this manner. Many had put up small tents on the road itself and made it their home temporarily. There were many similarities in the present calamity and the one that took place last year following breach in the dam holding the waters of the mighty Kosi river, in Bihar. There too the calamity was huge and the flooding took place across several districts of Bihar, as the river had changed its course, leaving farm lands under 20 feet of waters.(read abut the bihar flood relief works) But the difference there was that the army and navy had played a prominent role in the rescue work and also rebuilding devastated roads by constructing specially supported roads as done in such emergency situations or during wars. I do remember that when we had to go from Boothi Pul to Triveni Ganj in Supaul dt we had to always cross a very narrow and winding road built by the Indian army, across a breach on the road and under which waters still continued to flow.
The problem here was that of accessibility. Even without the cyclone, the infrastructure in these areas left much to be desired. The roads were pretty narrow and only small vehicles could drive on them. The cyclone had only compounded the existing conditions and so it took excruciating effort to even reach out relief to these remote areas inaccessible by road and through the river. Many villages were still struggling without any relief reaching them. Since the roads were bad the relief material on many occasions had to be carried as head load over long distances, something which we had never to do in Bihar.
The villagers were unhappy with the pace of development around the Sunderban area and said that even nearby Bangladesh which has far little means as compared to India had the embankment concretized with a motorable road over it. But West Bengal had not even begun contemplating this kind of an embankment, though that area was prone to flooding regularly due to collapse of the embankment.
On the second day the villagers requested us to provide hot meals in the evening also. Though our devotees were tired after all the hard work in the day, they starined themselves to make the villagers happy. A few local people also started helping in the preparations from than on, as our devotees, not having such experience before found it very difficult to lift these heavy vessels and so sought the help of the locals. On the second day the doctors treated around 300 patients. The patients were very happy wih the doctors who listene patiently to their problems and provided treatment. In many cases the patients with a long history of illness also came seeking medical help. Without proper investigation it would have been unwise to treat them and the doctors not wanting to disappoint them gave them some medicines for immediate relief.
- Sadasiva Chaitanaya