India's Modi Flies Over Cyclone-Ravaged East, Promises Millions to Rebuild

By Reuters 7 May 2019

BHUBANESWAR, India—Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi saw for himself the damage wreaked by a powerful cyclone on Monday, pledging an extra 10 billion rupees ($144 million) to the hardest-hit state of Odisha, where hundreds of thousands returned home from shelters.

Cyclone Fani killed at least 34 people in India, destroying houses, ripping off roofs and knocking down electricity poles.

Early warnings from meteorologists helped authorities evacuate more than a million people from low-lying towns, minimizing the death toll from the strongest storm in 43 years to pummel India’s east coast.

Modi flew by helicopter over battered towns and villages where thousands of rescue workers and volunteers were sifting through the debris.

“Before the cyclone, we had released 381 crore (3.81 billion rupees) to Odisha and we will now give an additional 1,000 crore (10 billion rupees) for relief and rebuilding efforts of the state,” Modi said.

He also announced financial compensation for victims.

Modi said his officials would work closely with the state government to rebuild infrastructure.

Chief minister of the state, Naveen Patnaik, has demanded a long-term package worth 170 billion rupees from the central government to build disaster-resistant infrastructure, the state government said.

Modi, who is busy campaigning in India’s 39-day staggered general election, last week chaired meetings in New Delhi to oversee efforts to deal with the storm. India’s seven-phase election began on April and voters in Odisha have already cast their ballots.

Tens of thousands of people remained without electricity in the state capital Bhubaneswar and the Hindu temple town of Puri after the storm made landfall on Friday.

Power has been restored to airports and hospitals. Bhubaneswar airport had resumed flights, state government officials said.

In a letter addressed to Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism, pledged 1 million rupees ($14,400) to Odisha.

After battering India, Fani barrelled into neighbouring Bangladesh on Saturday as a much weaker storm, killing at least five people.

By Monday, more than a million Bangladeshis had returned to their homes from cyclone shelters, officials said.