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Life Picking Up After India Cyclone

November 13, 1999

BHUBANESWAR, India (AP) _ Two weeks after a cyclone laid waste to vast parts of Orissa state, telephones rang Saturday, lights shone in homes and children went back to school.

While recovery began in some areas, however, the death toll continued to climb. It was expected to cross the 10,000 mark as relief workers pulled out more bodies rotting in the mud of this river delta region and burn them.

Volunteers looked for orphans among the 3.3 million children affected by the cyclone. And there was concern over rapidly spreading skin disease in one region where acid reportedly leaked from a fertilizer factory and polluted ponds.

Bhubaneswar, the state capital of 300,000 people, bustled with rebuilding efforts. Carpenters were in great demand to fix doors and windows unhinged in the Oct. 29 storm.

Workers straightened utility poles, then strung cables that had snapped in the cyclone’s 156 mph winds. Utility workers switched power from area to area to light up offices and homes and run water pumps so that people could finally get clean water.

Bhubaneswar’s airport milled with people, mostly aid workers and government officials shuttling between Orissa and the national capital, New Delhi.

Electric and diesel trains rolled out, cautiously, as workers toiled in the blazing sun to repair tracks bent like the backs of camels.

The highway to Calcutta to the north opened to traffic Thursday. Other roads, blocked by uprooted trees and breached by flash floods, were being repaired.

The nightmare appears over for the well-heeled of Bhubaneswar. The billiards room at the posh Bhubaneswar Club was crowded; liveried waiters scurried about.

Many, however, were angry that the government didn’t start repair work quickly.

``It took the government two weeks to restore electricity and water to the homes although the weather had cleared up within three days of the cyclone,″ said Sanjukta Padhi of Nayapalli, an affluent neighborhood.

No deaths were reported in the state capital although hundreds of mud-and-thatch huts of the poor were blown away.

In Jagatsinghpur, the worst affected area about 40 miles east of the state capital, where 8,100 people have been officially declared dead, volunteers worked alongside army soldiers to dispose of the rotting carcasses of animals and human corpses.

At least 344,000 cows, buffaloes and sheep have also been killed in the cyclone.

After reports of a spill of toxic chemicals, relief workers said Saturday that more than 60 percent of survivors in dozens of villages in Orissa had boils, scars and red patches spreading all over their bodies after they bathed in tainted ponds, where the water is black.

Top officials of the Paradwip Phosophates Ltd., the fertilizer factory blamed for the acid leak, did not return telephone calls over two days.

The same chemicals were preserving the bloated bodies still uncollected.

``The bodies have become like Egyptian mummies. They have stopped decomposing or stinking,″ said Ram Narayan of the Orissa Disaster Mitigation Mission, a conglomerate of 40 Indian and international voluntary groups.

``Wherever our teams went, people are still fishing in the same water where bodies lie. They are taking that water to wash,″ said Mahendra Parida, working for a children’s relief agency in the area. ``Then they eat that fish.″

Doctors who examined hundreds of patients in the area said the acid-related ailments were spreading fast.

``Doctors have advised patients to wash their bodies with clean water,″ said Narayan. ``But there is no clean water.″

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