Cyclone Fani originated from a tropical depression that formed west of Sumatra in the Indian Ocean on 26 April, and traveled towards India, making landfall with the speed of 175 kilometres per hour to 185 kilometres per hour on the morning of 3 May, 2019 at Puri, Orissa.
64 people lost their lives in the cyclone, while earlier cyclones had claimed thousands of lives in the region. The world hailed the Orissa government for its successful evacuation of 11,00,000 people against an ‘Extremely Severe Cyclonic Storm’.
The estimated loss in the state is approximately Rs 12,000 crore, and basic resources like housing, electricity, water and telecommunications have been badly hit.
The Orissa government announced help for all those who suffered; the relief for each family comprises 50 kilos of rice, one tarpaulin sheet and a sum of Rs 2,000 per month.
Puri district was found to be the most affected, and in the aftermath of the storm, those who have been left behind pick up scattered pieces of the past with a hope to survive and rebuild in the present.
Dogs walk by the edge of the Chilika Lake in the Sanpatna village. Most villagers make a living by fishing for shrimp in the lake. However, not many boats on the lake are left intact, leaving the villagers worried about earning a livelihood.
A lone television set survived the storm in the Baleswar Patana village, while many houses around it have been destroyed or damaged. The villagers say the landfall happened not too far away from Baleswar Patana.
Manguli stands in front of her fallen mud house. She says she doesn’t know what to do, or where to start. Her husband, meanwhile, has gone to the panchayat office to get some help. In spite of multiple visits and roadblock protests, the Paika Padha village has received no help from the government. It’s Day 7 since the storm.
The temple city of Puri has run out of drinking water and the electricity supply has stopped. The water tankers supplied by the government have not met the needs of the people, and many have returned with empty buckets. All houses and shops run on generators, the fuel prices have shot up, and the shortage of fuel has also led to the opening up of a black market.
The Balukhand-Konark Wildlife Sanctuary, with an area of 72 kilometres², is located along the coast, between the towns of Puri and Konark. The sanctuary includes sandy beaches and coastal dunes and is home to a herd of Blackbucks and Spotted Deer. Olive Ridley Sea Turtles nest on the beaches too. Cyclone Fani resulted in the loss of 5.5 million trees, many of which were instrumental in protecting the villages around from strong winds.
Today, you don’t see a single tree in the sanctuary.
By the golden beach stands the old ‘Puri Hotel’, where a huge mass of sand has entered the premises. The government has asked the hotel not to take in tourists until further notice, due to the lack of basic resources.
Bansidhar Behra and his three brothers lost their father eight days before Cyclone Fani. On the 13th day after his demise, they were to offer prayers for him and feed the people who attended the ceremony, as is the custom in Hindu culture. However, today they stay at the local primary school (in the Panda Pukhari village), as their house has been completely destroyed in the storm.
In spite of the harsh conditions, they intend to offer prayers and have asked the local priest to come to the school.
The village of Keto Kuddi has lost most of its coconut and plantain farms. They have been collecting the fallen coconuts and selling them in the local market. Though they won't get a good price for these coconuts, the money they earn will help them meet their immediate needs.
Lakkan Sahu and Kuna Mani Sahu, an elderly couple, run a small tea stall by the Puri-Konark highway in the Bali Ghai village. They seem to have lost faith in the government’s distribution strategy and have reopened their tea stall, which didn't suffer much damage. Their faith in Jagannath remains undeterred; they hope he will send customers their way so they earn enough to survive. The husband speaks about how this tea stall helped him build a strong house in the village, where he could accommodate a few villagers and their cattle during the storm.
Along the Brahmagiri-Sathpada road, mostly locals have managed to clear the streets. At a few places along the road, you also see dead cattle that were not lucky enough to find shelter. The Blue Cross of India has been working hard to get rid of these bodies, to avoid the spread of any epidemic.
It’s been eight days since the storm. Upon realising that they have received no help from anybody, the women of Keto Kuddi village take it upon themselves to block the road and ask for food and water from the government vehicles that pass by, even pleading with the trucks transporting relief to serve their village before they go any further. There has been news among the locals that in some villages, the relief trucks have been looted in desperate attempts to survive.
Lunch has been served in the Keto Kuddi village street today. When they didn't receive any help from the government for about a week, someone from the village suggested that they put together everything that remained in their individual kitchens to start a community kitchen. The villagers assume they can survive for two more days with the food from this kitchen.
Chilika Lake attracts a large tourist population and provides employment for many locals. A man stands at Chilika bus stop, where he once worked. The place is usually crowded and abuzz — but the man wonders about its future and glory.
A girl walks to the cyclone shelter through what is left of her village.
Chilika Lake is a brackish water lagoon, spread over the Puri, Khurda and Ganjam districts of Orissa. It is the largest coastal lagoon in India, and the second largest in the world. It has been featured in the UNESCO World Heritage tentative list. It is the largest wintering ground for migratory birds in the Indian sub-continent.
The lake has large fishery resources. It sustains more than 150,000 fishermen living in 132 villages on the shore and islands.
At Batapur, there are serpentine lines leading to the panchayat office, because the sum of Rs 2,000 promised by the government has finally made its way to the villagers. The villagers are desperate to collect the money. While few worry about their lost identification documents, others are concerned about how they will survive on Rs 2,000 per month — and how long it will be before their lives return to normalcy.
All photographs by Kaveer Rai