Work begins to help the estimated nine million affected by a cyclone

Church charities in India are preparing for massive relief work after Cyclone Phailin left nearly nine million people affected along the east coast of India.

John Shumlansky, the representative in India for the US bishops’ Catholic Relief Service (CRS), said: “On the ground, there is total devastation. But, I am glad that the government did an excellent job with the massive evacuation that saved many lives.”

He added that “the challenges ahead are too many” with houses blown away, buildings damaged and farms under water.

Phailin hit India’s east coast on Saturday with winds of up to 120 miles per hour; it devastated the coastal areas of Orissa and Andhra Pradesh states. Only about two dozen people were killed, mostly by falling trees, because nearly one million people were evacuated by the government ahead of the cyclone.

“The people need to be helped to rebuild their house and lives. Many of them have lost their livelihood,” Shumlansky said.

CRS’s immediate target, he added, is to reach out to 10,000 families with aid, including cash grants to help them buy essential items.

An Orissa state official said more than 14,500 villages in 12 districts were affected, with 234,000 houses damaged in Orissa state. More than 1,200 acres of crops were destroyed by gushing waters.

Antony Chetri, relief work coordinator for Caritas India, said that the Caritas network would provide shelter material like tarps for most needy families.

“Since the government is already providing food to the displaced people (in more than 1,000 relief camps), we do not want to duplicate it. We will try to identify those in remote areas and help them,” said Chetri.

“We distributed relief material to 500 families in Ganjam. Rebuilding houses and restoring the livelihood is going to be tough task. The farmers have been badly hit with coconut trees uprooted, banana plantations damaged and paddy fields under water. The fishermen also have lost their boats and nets.”

Meanwhile, Babita Allick, team leader of the disaster management wing of Caritas India, said that it has released $16,500 for emergency relief and assessment work for the dioceses of Berhampur and Balasore.