Orissa flood victims wait for relief, food packets air-dropped (Lead)

June 19th, 2008 - 9:08 pm ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Manmohan Singh

Balasore/Bhubaneswar, June 19 (IANS) Thousands of people in Orissa’s flood-affected regions went without food for two days though a lone helicopter was Thursday deployed to drop food packets in marooned villages as water levels in some rivers rose to new highs. “The helicopter engaged in the relief work was small and it has dropped only 360 foods packets till now,” relief official Pratap Mishra told IANS from Balasore district.

“By late today (Thursday) it can drop a maximum of 500 packets which is too inadequate compared to the number of people who need relief,” he said.

“We are desperately trying to send relief through any means.”

Mishra said the local administration had sent about 300 quintals of chuda or flattened rice and 300 quintals of rice to Bhograi district through neighbouring West Bengal, going around more than 250 km.

“We sent them by truck after we were told that some villages can be reached that way,” he said.

“The state needs more helicopters for air drops and we are expecting another helicopter from the air force base at Kalaikunda by (Thursday) evening,” the state’s joint commissioner (relief) Hemant Kumar Das said.

“But it can drop relief only tomorrow (Friday),” Kumar told IANS at Bhubaneswar.

“We have already prepared about 50,000 foods packets,” he said.

About one million people in north Orissa have been hit by the disaster with rivers breaching their banks following five days of incessant rain.

Balasore is one of the worst hit districts with 800,000 people affected and hundreds of villages still inaccessible.

Flood waters have submerged thousands of acres of land, disrupted electricity, roads and rail communication in affected areas.

Kulamani Mishra, a senior revenue official engaged in relief operation in Balasore district, said the administration moved more than 40,000 people to safe shelters - on the roads, high-rise buildings and schools - and are providing them food through 80 free kitchens.

“The water level in the Subarnarekha river that caused severe floods in Balasore district was 12.69 metres Thursday morning against the danger level of 10.36 metres,” said Durgesh Nandini Sahu, officer on special duty in the state revenue control room.

“It was an all-time high and broke all records,” she added. The earlier highest water level of 12.38 metres was recorded July 7 last year, she said.

“It is one of the worst floods in our region so far I have seen in my life,” said Bhagaban Dalai, a 60-year-old resident of Panasia village.

Dalai is one of the 2,000 residents who took shelter in makeshift sheds on nearby national highway 60 after flood waters submerged their houses Wednesday.

“Our region had witnessed floods six times last year but this flood seems most dangerous for us,” he said.

Like Dalai, hundreds of people were camping on highways and authorities have asked them to move to higher ground, saying the weather could worsen in the next few days.

Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik made an aerial survey of the flood hit areas and reviewed the flood situation.

He wrote a letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh demanding immediate sanction of funds for relief and restoration work.

“The state experienced floods in many spells last year and the state government submitted two memoranda last year, on July 24 and on Nov 26,” Patnaik said.

“Though a central team visited the flood-hit areas, not a rupee was sanctioned by the central government for the purpose beyond the usual corpus of the calamity relief funds,” he said.

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