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Death, Disease and Destruction from Cyclone in Southern India

November 9, 1996

HYDERABAD, India (AP) _ Shivering in wet clothes, hundreds of thousands of Indians left homeless by a deadly cyclone huddled in schools and offices today as rescuers searched for bodies, brought in relief supplies and tried to prevent a cholera outbreak.

More than 1,000 people were killed in the storm that hit the southwestern state of Andhra Pradesh on Wednesday night with winds nearly 100 mph. Another 1,000 fishermen were reported missing in the Bay of Bengal, a rough sea with high waves.

Navy helicopters dropped bags of rice mixed with spices, drinking water, medicine and clothes to some of the estimated half-million people driven from their homes by the cyclone that flooded rice paddies and villages, ripped power poles from the ground and washed out roads and railway lines.

Authorities also were trying to prevent a cholera outbreak in the tent camps holding storm refugees.

The state’s health department reported its first suspected cholera case Friday, while the news agency United News of India said seven people were hospitalized in the worst hit area, around Kakinada, with cholera symptoms.

Cholera is caused by bacteria that proliferate in contaminated water. If not immediately treated, it can be fatal.

Air force helicopters dropped teams of paramedics to treat the sick and wounded along the coastal stretch of southern India still inundated by rains and sea water. There has been no rain in the area since Thursday.

``I am at a loss for words to describe the tragedy,″ Chandrababu Naidu, chief executive of Andhra Pradesh state, told reporters Friday after he flew over the disaster area in a relief helicopter.

Hundreds of workers armed with axes worked alongside with bulldozers to clear uprooted trees on roads. Telephone workers hitched up emergency links to district headquarters.

Two districts in the state, east Godavari and west Godavari, were affected by the cyclone. A total of five million people live in the districts, which contain some of India’s most fertile farmland.

The area of rice fields and banana and mango groves remained inaccessible by road.

The state administration estimated crop and property losses of about $555 million _ a staggering figure in a nation where the annual per capita income is less than $500.

More than 10,000 homes were destroyed. About 200 tent camps were set up for 100,000 people, and more tents were being sent to the region.

``I have nothing left except the clothes I have on my body,″ Seetharama Raju said. Raju told a local journalist that he came to the camp after searching in vain for his missing wife, three sons and two daughters near his submerged farm.

Many of the fatalities happened when the mud walls of houses collapsed on the victims. Others drowned in flood waters. A passenger ferry sank with 42 people on board in the Godavari River. There were no survivors.

It was the second major storm in three weeks. The battered region was still recovering from storms and flooding that had killed 350 people.

Update hourly