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Cyclone Fani survivors: As Bhubaneswar struggles to rise to its feet, water and power scarcity levels rich-poor divide

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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It is early morning in Bhubaneswar but almost half of the residents of the city are yet to wake up. After six consecutive nights without electricity and tortured by mosquitoes, the residents of the city are still reeling in the aftermath of Cyclone Fani.

Twenty-four-year-old Roopa* and Neeti*, both roommates, had to head to river Daya, five-km away east of Bhubaneswar on the road leading to Puri, to take bath. For the last four days, the water tank in their rented accommodation at Samantarapur has dried up. "Daya is our best chance. We have exhausted all other options. We return before it (the river bank) gets crowded," says Roopa. Both the girls hail from nearby villages in Balasore district.

 Cyclone Fani survivors: As Bhubaneswar struggles to rise to its feet, water and power scarcity levels rich-poor divide

Cyclone Fani, one of the biggest to hit India in years, barrelled into Bangladesh on 4 May after leaving a trail of deadly destruction in India. AFP

The girls say that the city was very different when they moved here six years ago. The two childhood friends moved to Bhubaneswar for their MBA degree and they are currently junior-level executives with a private Telecom company.

Dotted with trees and endless stretches of the boulevard, Bhubaneswar offered, as the girls describe it, everything one could aspire for. Three years ago when the city topped among the list of smart cities in the country Roopa and Neeti taunted their friends working in other metropolitans in India. "Whenever our friends would visit, we took them to different places. We wouldn't return before clicking selfies at every location," says Roopa.

In fact, before Cyclone Fani hit the city on 3 May, the city hardly had any power outages or water scarcity. "We told our friends how basic necessities were abundantly available in Bhubaneswar. But that was the past," Roopa said. Considering the current issues that the girls have to face, the duo is contemplating moving cities for good. "We fill our water bottles in office. But we can't carry water for daily use in bottles every day," said Neeti.

"We can't believe that the city could have been so badly ravaged. It pains to see those trees gone. Bhubaneswar won't be the same for a very long time to come."

A few metres away from the river banks of Daya, a group of men and women parked in their vehicles start heading towards the water streak. At a distance, Dhaulagiri looks stunning. It's at this small hilltop on the banks of the Daya, that emperor Ashoka had fought the last battle of his life, the Kalinga war. According to folklore, when Ashoka saw the water of the Daya turn red with the blood of the killed soldiers, he decided not to fight again and took to Buddhism.

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Towards the north of Bhubaneswar on the Cuttack highway, two-kilometres away from Palasuni flows the Kuakhia river. Palasuni is the city's last stop for long route buses moving towards their destinations through Odisha' cultural and business hub Cuttack. Passengers driving on the Chennai-Kolkata national highway 16 pass through the Kuakhia bridge just after crossing Bhubaneswar.

The Kuakhia, too, is witnessing new visitors almost every day since Fani hit the state. They have their bath and some carry water back with them.

A former police officer is late for his morning tea. His friends are waiting for him at an OMFED booth near Jayadev Vihar in Bhubaneswar. As he arrives, the officer apologetically tells his friends that he had a generator technician lift water from his underground water storage tanker. "He charged me Rs 2,000 per hour but at least now I won't have to worry about water for the next two-three days."

Generators have been much in demand in the city since Fani took out several electricity poles last week. But these machines are available at a premium and locals need to queue up if they want to rent one. Overworked generator workers are not, however, entirely happy with the hours but those who can afford are not taking any chances and renting the machines.

Across from Jayadev Vihar is Salia Sahi — Bhubaneswar's largest slum which is home to at least 80,000 people, but some say the number could be far greater.

Nirupama and her family live here. Living in the slums for almost 25 years now, 43-year-old Nirupama said she and the locals have not seen such torrid times ever. The residents of the slum have to stand for hours in the queue for water from a nearby open well. There are others who have found methods to beat the water trouble. Vijay, who is a carpenter by profession and lives in Salia Sahi, pooled in Rs 400 with the help of friends and neighbours and hired an autorickshaw rider to carry water for them. When asked about the municipality water supply, the residents get irritated.

"No one believes in this government or what they say. They are all lies. Government has failed miserably." This is a common sentiment across the city.

Rich and poor are equally battling for water post-Cyclone Fani. Since 3 May, the daytime temperature has risen considerably and has been hovering around 40 degrees Celsius but what has made the situation worse is the rising level of humidity.

If the ruling Biju Janata Dal's announcements are to be believed, the power supply will be restored across the state by 12 May. The Naveen Patnaik-led government has also promised that the water condition will normalise soon.

Everything said and done, Cyclone Fani's after-effects are going to bother the city and its residents for a while now. There is no doubt about that.

(*) names have been changed on request. 

 

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Updated Date: May 09, 2019 17:39:25 IST