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'Asbestos sheets flew like birds': Cyclone Fani survivors recount destruction caused by storm, trauma of losing loved ones

Editor's note: Cyclone Fani has left in its wake a trail of destruction in Odisha. This multi-part reported series tells of who survived the devastation.

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She always felt safe at her two-room concrete home in Angarapada village near Naroda bazaar in Turintira Panchayat of Khordha district's Balipatna block.

Leave alone a day before but even after two hours of rain and the gusty wind started terrifying Haramani Behera (58), wife of Trilochan Behera, she didn't want to move out to a safer place.

"I called, requested and even shouted at her to get out immediately and come to our place, but she didn't budge. She kept saying if death is written on my luck I will prefer to die inside my home," recalls Kanchan, a relative. Kanchan is the wife of Haramani's brother-in-law.

 Asbestos sheets flew like birds: Cyclone Fani survivors recount destruction caused by storm, trauma of losing loved ones

Deceased Haramani Behera's son Pradipta Behera and her daughter-in-law Haripriya. Image credit Debi Mohanty

However, at around 11.25 am, when a coconut tree fell on the roof of her house, Haramani finally thought she should respect others' advice and started moving out, with much difficulty against a fiery wind, to join other family members at Kanchan's house, barely 15 feet away.

Perhaps Haramani didn't know that she was stepping out of her home for the last time only to return draped in a white cloth in less than 15 minutes later.

She must have crossed four-five feet when a huge branch fell on her and she died instantly, says her 34-year-old son Pradipta, who works as a cook in a roadside south Indian joint at Nimapara market, 14 kilometres away.

"That morning, she had a cup of tea. I had already cooked lunch by 7 am. She said after the cyclone, we would eat together," recalls Pradipta's wife Harapriya, 26.

After Haramani's death, Harapriya is devastated. For since she married Pradipta, four years back, it's Haramani who stayed with her always. Now she will have to live alone with her 2.5-year-old son Surya, also fondly called Gagloo.

"This morning, my father-in-law went to collect the public distribution system ration and Pradipta to invite relatives living away in other villages to the 10th to 13th-day rites of Haramani. I felt very lonely. Gagloo kept on searching for his grandmother," says Harapriya.

Sarpanch of Turintira Panchayat Sulochana Swain confirms Harapriya is a Cyclone Fani casualty.

"Her family has been given Rs 2,000 under Harischandra Sahayata Yojana for carrying out last rites. The revenue inspector is making an assessment. We will write to the government to pay the family all compensation meant for Cyclone Fani victims," the sarpanch says.

The family owns half an acre of agricultural land. Pradipta says he had last gone to work on 2 May. It's unlikely for him to get back to the job in the next 20 days because apart from his mother's rites, he will have to clear off the debris and the fallen trees first. There is also the danger of reptiles. All these days, of course, he is not going to be paid by his owner.

"I can't blame him (the owner of the food stall)," he says.

The destruction by the cyclone was so severe that initially Haramani's body couldn't be carried to the community health centre (CHC) at Balipatna, 6 kilometres from Angarpada for the doctor's final word that she's dead.

After the sarpanch gave in writing confirming the death, her body was finally cremated 32 hours after she breathed her last.

"It was terrible. No dried firewood was there. We pulled bamboos from thatched roofs razed to the ground. Even that didn't catch fire because everything was wet. Finally, we had to pour petrol on the bamboos to burn the body. It took five to six hours," says Kailash Behera, a neighbour.

"We never knew death comes like this. That day, asbestos sheets flew like birds. Some sustained minor injuries," says another villager.

Asbestos sheet atop a tree. Image credit Debi Mohanty

Asbestos sheet atop a tree in Balipatna. Image credit Debi Mohanty

In another part of Balipatna, an unclean charpoy is lying on the narrow passage from the verandah that serves as the entrance to the two rooms inside.

And on it is 72-year-old Brajakishor Das. A couple of bamboo sticks are leaning against what has been his bed for the last one decade. Every two-three minutes, Das is calling his sons Jagannath (43) and Sitanath (34).

"Are Jaga, Situ Bou (mother) ra kaana hela. Tike phone kari pachara (What happened to your mother? please call and enquire about her)?" he says.

Getting no response, he tries to pull one of the bamboo sticks with his right leg, clutches on to it and tries to sit up. Despite suffering from cataract, he tries looking around for his wife Manorama (67).

Das has been paralysed in the left side of his body since 2009.

Manorama has been rushed to the CHC in Balipatna in an ambulance after an almost two feet thick, rain-soaked wall fell on her on Tuesday morning.

Inside the house, Jagannath, who runs an auto, is trying to gather as many essentials as possible from the rubbles of one destroyed room. Sitanath is some metres away, trying to see if the mobile phones of any others in his village are working.

The mobile towers, having been hit by trees, may not have power for at least the next 15 days. "My mind is not working. I heard, Bou (mother) has been referred to Capital hospital in Bhubaneswar. So many times, I have told Bapa (father) that she will be back soon. But he does not believe me," Sitanath says.

"The other stick by my father's bed is mine," he adds. "Last evening, a bamboo from the razed thatched roof hit my mother on her forehead. So this morning, after tea, she had gone to put it aside to ensure that others don't get hit. As soon as she stepped into the room, even before she could touch the bamboo, the wall fell on her back," informs Jagannath.

"As if it was waiting for her so that it could fall. Severely bruised, blood came out of her mouth and nose. She was motionless," he adds.

Reena, daughter-in-law of Manorama and Brajakishor, is standing by the broken door inside the house." She had told me she was going to cook rice and chop vegetables so that she could prepare dalma (made of dal and vegetables).

A couple of hours later, the ambulance is seen returning. Seeing the grim face of the eldest brother in the vehicle, Balaram, the entire family runs towards it, sobbing. The septuagenarian Brajakishor tries too but falls on the bed.

"You had promised not to leave me alone. Why did you lie to me? From brushing teeth to bathing, you did everything for me, how will I live now? Who will do my job that only you could have done?" His cry is audible even from a distance.

Brajakishor and Manorama had married in 1970. Next year would have been their 50th anniversary. Of their five sons, one died in 2010.

Manorama was an active woman. Even yesterday, she was asking someone to re-erect the walls. "She was our ward member a couple of decades back," recalls Kailash, a fellow villager.

Sulochana Swain, sarpanch of Turintira block, confirmed her death.

One relative of Manorama leaves to inform the police. "But how and where shall I make a photocopy of the post-mortem report. Due to power failure, all shops are closed," he says. Someone advises him to ride the bike to Bhubaneswar, 28 km away, to see if the job can be done there.

Some of the villagers try to gather firewood for cremation. One of them pulls the bamboo which had injured Manorama.

The family will always remember Fani. Manorama is a casualty of the after-effects of the deadly destroyer. For them, as Sitanath says, life will never be the same again. "A decade back, one of my brothers died in an accident, but we could move on. After Bou (mother), it would be extremely difficult. Both I and my father have lost everything," he says. Tears drop silently from his eyes.

Near a dimly lit candle, a lean, seventy year old Droupadi is kneading flour as her daughter Sulekha (28) turns the plastic manual fan towards a person in a wheelchair, with Ryles tube fixed to his nose.

He is Sulekha's father, Balaram Bhuiyan (78). The three are living in a rented accommodation near Khandagiri locality of Bhubaneswar. They are originally from a village in Balasore district's Bhogarai block.

 

After roti is made, Sulekha will soften it in warm water before her mother squeezes it to liquid form. With vegetable soup, the mother-daughter duo will feed Balaram though the tube.

They have been doing it twice a day for over a year, ever since Balaram suffered a cerebral vascular attack, commonly known as brain haemorrhage in January 2018.

Sulekha, who works as a staff nurse with a leading private corporate hospital in Bhubaneswar, has tried her best to make her father better. She, despite her paltry salary, had Balaram undergo surgery. She had to borrow from her colleagues for Balaram's treatment.

However, old age and other complications like pneumonia hampered Balaram's recovery.

Though the doctors had said that Balaram's condition may not witness much change, Sulekha didn't lose hope. Recently, she felt that her father was responding better, for the first time in 13 months in the last week of April this year. An excited Sulekha had called a few of her close friends to say that her long struggle was paying off. "Baba showed signs of recovery as he didn't require oxygen. He started to respond to our calls. I was extremely happy," she says.

However, her happiness didn't last long. After Fani hit the state, changed weather and rain followed by extreme heat again worsened her father's condition. "Once again, he needs oxygen support. If he lies on the bed, he has difficulty breathing. I know making him sit in wheelchair for long hours must be hurting him. But with no electricity, the oxygen machine can't operate. So what do I do?" she asks.

Soon, Cyclone Fani will fade away from public memory but for Trilochan, Pradipta, Harapriya, little Gagloo, Manorama, Brajakishor, Jagannath, Droupadi, Sulekha and Balaram, it will remain as a grim reminder of Haramani's sad demise and the need to rebuild their lives again.

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Updated Date: May 10, 2019 16:43:55 IST