A hot cooked meal of rice, sambar, curry and pickle is something you can far from expect on an assignment of covering a cyclone. But our entire team managed to relish the luxury at the cyclone relief centre at Pudimadaka, a coastal village of fisherfolk in Vizag district, courtesy the district administration.
As part of Andhra Pradesh's massive relief efforts and disaster management for Cyclone Hudhud, the administration has set up nearly 400 relief centres where food is cooked and served to those evacuated from their homes. The people were kind enough to offer to us too.
It took me back 15 years to the super-cyclone of October 29, 1999. It took us over two days to get to Paradip, the place that took the brunt. We had virtually gone hungry through most of our journey. It was the biggest cyclone so far and my first. So everything was overwhelming. Food was not on our agenda, even though the hunger pangs were constant reminders. Not that food was available anywhere either. The destruction, the bodies...no one outside knew what had happened inside the cyclone zone. All we had with us was our camera and a worry that battery could run out. There was no power supply anywhere and no phones of course. We were just moving forward, driven by only a drive to find out what had happened and tell the world. When we did get to the places badly hit, there was no choice but for us to give away the few biscuits and a couple of Haldiram packets we were carrying to hungry children there, who had nothing to eat and had not eaten ever since the fury of waters took away everything. Even when we got back to Bhubaneswar, a cup of rice at the only hotel open was being sold for Rs 300 and we were grateful for it. Petrol was being sold in black after long queues.
From then to now, we have come a long way. At that time, there was a single satellite phone in chief minister Giridhar Gamang's office and I had to compete with him and take turns and use it to file my report. He was kind enough to let us do that.
Now both Odisha and Andhra Pradesh are equipped with satellite phones with every senior officer. No break in telecommunication is ensured by using VHF sets and so on.
The official death toll in the 1999 Odisha super-cyclone was put at 10,000. The government's target now is to ensure not a single life is lost. If possible, they will force people to evacuate to save a life and serve them a hot cooked meal as well. So media crews benefit as well!
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