India (GFA/MNN) — The last time a storm as powerful as Cyclone Phailin struck the eastern coast of India, 10,000 people died.
The sense of relief is strong in the state of Odisha, where Phailin made landfall this weekend. 17 people died and more than nine million were affected. However, the survival rates are attributed to the massive evacuations that took place as the storm approached. While every death is tragic, considering Phailin was the strongest tropical storm to hit India in more than a decade, the toll could have been much higher.
Around half a million people fled the coasts of Andhra Pradesh and Odisha as Cyclone Phailin began its onslaught. It’s the result of having learned the lessons of 1999, in which Cyclone Orissa killed 10,000 and did over $2 billion in damage. For what it’s worth, Cyclone Orissa carried winds of 155 mph at landfall. Phailin arrived with winds of 140 mph.
Still, officials acknowledge that rehabilitation will be a significant challenge. Electricity has been turned off in 12 Odishan districts and may take a week to turn on again, and communications are severely limited. Gospel For Asia Vice President, Danny Punnose says, “The greatest difficulties in these kinds of situations is that you don’t have a very fast clean up. So, you’ve got contaminated water. Most people drink out of wells-open bore wells, and so you’ve got animals that are dead, and so you’ve got the chances for cholera and waterborne diseases to be spreading.”
With many roads either collapsed or blocked by trees, officials are still waiting to see the extent of the damage along the coast. Some estimate 236,000 homes are damaged.
In Odisha, Gospel for Asia correspondent Ibhya Lall said more than 4,000 believers were affected by Cyclone Phailin. GFA has assessment teams on the ground because fast action is the key to surviving the aftermath of the storm. Punnose says, “We have about 200 churches that are actually in those areas that were hit pretty badly. You’re talking about couple thousand believers there, plus you’ve got missionaries, and other people who are doing work in Bridge of Hope Centers. So there are quite a lot of people in those areas.”
The reality of going home for many will be grim. “There’s nothing to go back to. There are no farms, there are no animals. Their livelihood is gone, especially along the coast lines, pretty much, their livelihood has been destroyed because it’s all fishing”, explains Punnose. Laying out a plan of action is easier said than done, he adds. “It’s not just throwing food at people, but having a serious level plan that’ll probably take us a couple of years to be able to really help a lot of these people get back on their feet.”
What’s more, many of the GFA team members are responding to the needs even though they have also lost their homes, churches, schools and Bridge of Hope Centers, he notes. “They are doing what they can to serve the community and to serve people, because they may be the only ones who actually have any sense of hope in a disaster like this.”
The damage is so widespread, it will take at least a couple years to recover. Add to that the potential of a food shortage, and the stakes raise even higher. Intense monsoon rains this summer had brought an increase in the two states’ regular rice crop, but now more than 1 million acres of agricultural fields have been destroyed. As two of India’s greatest producers of rice, the damage will likely affect the rest of the nation’s food supply.
With the government’s support, GFA Compassion Services teams plan to provide relief in as many affected areas as possible.
It’s just another disaster story, right? It may or may not make a blip on the evening news. There may or may not be a follow up :30 story. As the story fades from headlines in North America, Punnose acknowledges that this is a challenge they face when asking for help to respond to a disaster of this magnitude. However, he points out that, “If we aren’t concerned, and we don’t allow our hearts to break, what happens is, if you do that long enough, your heart becomes numb to anything that God is trying to stir you with.”
Please pray for:
* Continued guidance and wisdom for government officials and all seeking to provide relief and rescue from the storm.
* God’s peace to reign in the hearts of believers affected by the storm.
* God to show His love to the people of India in the midst of this crisis.