Orissa floods: 17 killed, half a million still marooned (Lead)

September 21st, 2008 - 9:48 pm ICT by IANS  

Bhubaneswar, Sep 21 (IANS) At least 17 people have been killed and more than half a million remain marooned in about 2,000 villages in Orissa as officials were struggling Sunday to reach the victims of the devastating floods that have hit the state.”At least 570,000 people are marooned after more than 40 fresh breaches in different river embankments in various parts of the state,” Orissa Revenue Secretary G.V. Venugopala Sarma told IANS.

He said the total number of breaches of embankments was 61.

The toll in the floods that have affected more than half of Orissa went up to 17, with one more death reported Sunday, the official said. One person was reported missing, he added.

The floods have made life difficult for 2.5 million people in 17 of the state’s 30 districts.

Although there was little rainfall during the past two days, water released from the Hirakud reservoir since Thursday inundated many low-lying areas, forcing the administration to evacuate more people.

“We evacuated more than 266,000 people during the past three days - more than 50,000 of them today (Sunday),” Sarma said.

Due to heavy rains in the upper catchment areas, including in Chhattisgarh, earlier this week, a huge quantity of water was entering the Hirakud reservoir, forcing the authorities to open some 40 of its 64 sluice gates.

Against the reservoir’s maximum capacity of 630 feet, the water level was at 629 feet Sunday.

The coastal districts of Cuttack, Puri, Jagatsinghpur and Kendrapada are the worst hit and are likely to face more floods in the next two days, officials said.

Schools in the affected districts have been closed since Friday and the government said they would reopen only after Tuesday.

Road links in several areas have been cut off. The evacuated people were taking shelter on embankments, rooftops, roads, schools and in high-rise buildings.

“More than 15,000 people have taken shelter on embankments in Balianta area (on the outskirts of Bhubaneswar) and more people are joining them as water from rivers is entering fresh ares following breaches,” Ranjan Mohanty, secretary of NGO Peoples’ Cultural Centre, told IANS.

The government said it was trying to supply relief material using boats and two Indian Air Force helicopters.

The victims, however, complained that no government official had been in touch with them since the flooding began.

“Nobody has come to us, although we have been starving for the past two days. There is water everywhere and we cannot move,” an Oriya newschannel quoted a victim as saying.

Revenue Secretary Sarma said the state had sought four more helicopters to step up relief operations.

Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik Saturday wrote to the central government asking for an initial relief package of Rs.15 billion.

The state government said the preliminary estimate of losses due to the floods was Rs.25 billion.

Describing the floods as one of the worst in over two decades, the Orissa government said it should be declared a national calamity.

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