Four days after Cyclone ‘Fani’ ravaged the Odisha coast, electricity continues to remain one of the biggest casualties. The damage to the electrical infrastructure has been extensive, with around 3.5 million households in the affected areas still plunged in darkness with no power.
The biggest problem in the worst-affected Puri and Khurda districts right now is the absence of electricity. Khurda also includes Bhubaneswar, the state capital.
To get a picture of the massive destruction wrought by Cyclone Fani: as many as 1.56 lakh electric poles were uprooted, while two 400 KV towers, 19 132 KV towers, 200 33/11 KV poles, over 10,000 11/0.4 transformers and dozens of high-tension lines were damaged.
After working overtime since Saturday, nearly 7,000 electrical workers were able to restore power only in some important places like hospitals, the State Secretariat and Assembly by Sunday. There is no official word yet on how long it will take to restore power to the whole city. But given the rate at which things are progressing, it could take up to a week – and maybe more. Restoration of power in Puri district would take much longer.
With no power, water supply too has been hit badly. Diesel generator operators are doing brisk business, charging as much as Rs. 1,000 for half an hour, to lift water to the overhead tanks. Those who cannot afford such exorbitant rates are taking to the streets demanding water as the water supplied by the government through tankers is proving hopelessly inadequate.
Generators are also being used to draw water from bore wells, charge mobile phones and run fans, further pushing up the demand for generators.
Generator operators, however, are not the only ones cashing in on the post-cyclone crisis. The prices of most goods have shot up exorbitantly in the market as traders have ganged up to create an artificial scarcity. With most petrol bunks still shut, diesel is selling at as much as Rs. 200 a litre, while a candle that normally sells for Rs. 5 is being sold at Rs. 12-15. Vegetable prices have gone through the roof.
In the absence of electricity and water at home, those who can afford have made a beeline for hotels in the city, ready to pay twice the normal rates. As a result, there are no rooms available in any hotel. Others are rushing to their villages or relatives' places in a desperate bid to escape the heat, humidity and harrowing life in Bhubaneswar.
The other major problem is the complete breakdown of online and PoS transactions. There are serpentine queues in front of the three ATMs - the only ones working in the whole of Bhubaneswar city, one of which is out of bounds for the general populace since it’s located inside the State Secretariat. Petrol bunks and shopkeepers are accepting payment only in cash, making things even harder for people.
With nearly two million trees uprooted, the green cover in the beautiful city of Bhubaneswar is almost entirely gone. With fallen trees strewn all over the place, it looks like a ghost city these days. While restoration of normal life may be a possible in a week or two, it would take years to get the green cover back in the city.
There is no doubt that the Super Cyclone of 1999 was a disaster of much bigger proportions than Cyclone 'Fani', which pounded the Puri coast at a speed of 180 km/hr on the morning of May 3. But that is small consolation for the people affected by 'Fani' as they struggle for normalcy to return in their lives.
Meanwhile, 1,000 electricity department employees from Telangana left for Odisha on Tuesday to help in the works to restore power supply in the cyclone-hit coastal state.
The Odisha government had requested the Telangana government for help in restoration of power supply as electric poles and supply lines suffered heavy damage due to the cyclone, a Telangana government release said.
Responding to the request, Chief Minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao has directed senior officials to extend help to Odisha, it said.