The town's trees are gone and its the roads are full of by trucks laden with electric poles, ambulances, fire service vehicles and cranes, signaling the colossal rebuilding efforts in the works. Fani pummeled Puri's coast on May 3 and the changed ambience metaphorically tells a grim tale of unspeakable grief.
People in Puri are harried as banking, telecom services, water and power supply have been paralysed. While the banking services and mobile connectivity have been resumed to an extent through alternative channels, water and power supply situation remains a distant dream in Puri. Officials are still noncommittal on time lines to restore power connectivity and mobile services crippled by the cyclone.
"Since the day the cyclone made its landfall in Puri, there is an acute problem of water supply. Power is yet to be restored. Unavailability of banking and telecom services is causing serious impediments in running our business. The administration should initiate immediate measures for providing the necessary services at the earliest", said Bisnu Prasad Sahoo, a resident of Puri.
Tourists are no less distressed. For Bibhu Das, a visitor who frequented Puri (from Bhubaneswar), the ride to the temple town was never punctuated by a sinking moment. “The drive between Bhubaneswar and Puri used to be one of the soothing trips. With the roads now naked after the cyclone, the shade of trees will elude the visitors. The heat and humidity is palpable than before”, he says.
Das is unsure when Puri will return to normal. Even Puri's residents and its administration are clueless. The roads are now littered with uprooted trunks and bare branches. Journeying to and through Puri, you come to grips with the enormity of the damage inflicted by the summer cyclone. Power lines sagged, poles uprooted and razed to the ground all testify how Puri's fragile power infrastructure capitulated to a killer storm.
Losses to the power sector are gigantic, estimated at Rs 1400 crore with 60 per cent of the damage clustered in Puri. The cyclone has torn apart 10000 kilometers HT (high tension) lines and a similar length of LT (low tension) lines. Around 150,000 electric poles are affected in the district with a third of them in want of replacement.
The disaster, though, is tempered with a spell of relief from the government. Purna Chandra Bhoi, clutching his National Food Security (NFSA) Act card has queued up stoically for two hours at Birapratappur (in Puri district), to claim the government announced assistance of Rs 2000.
“The government had given 50 kg rice on Saturday. Today, I am standing in the queue to get Rs 2000. Let’s see whether my turn comes or not. If not , I will have to come again tomorrow as my crops and house are damaged due to the cyclone. I have nothing now to make both ends meet”, says Bhoi, a sharecropper, with teary eyes.
Small business owners and roadside peddlers, too, poured out their distress, more than a week into the devastating cyclone slamming Puri's coast.
“I opened my shop two days back. There are hardly any tourists. After the cyclone destroyed my house and shop, I am facing a lot of hardship. Even after toiling hard on a hot and humid day, I am yet to open my accounts”, said Biswanath Moharana. He sells fancy items on the Grand Road on a makeshift arrangement.
Earlier, my sales used to go up to Rs 1000 per diem, Moharana adds, as he scrambles to arrange his tawdry items.
Rabi Shankar Das, another small-time trader, dealing in silver utensils, ungrudgingly admits how the timely government relief of cash and rice is helping to eke out his family expenses.
For Moharana and Das, the inbound tourists are the prized customers. Tourism, battered and bruised after the cyclone's assault, has left them disconsolate.
“Without tourists, Puri is nothing. Our business depends on the flow of tourists. Since, Fani wreaked havoc in Puri, the livelihood of more than 4000 families running business on Grand Road has been impacted. Lack of power connectivity has added to the woes. We are pinning hopes on Rath Yatra for a turnaround”, Das added.
The cyclone has deflated Puri's tourism and hospitality industries. Hotels from star-rated to budget categories, are in a torrid state. Often inundated with tourists for its iconic Jagannath Temple and shimmering beaches, Puri metamorphosing into a desolate town post Fani is a bitter pill to swallow for the hoteliers.
“ The hospitality sector in Puri is undergoing losses of Rs two crore each day. We are hopeful that the hotels in Puri will resume services in the next one month. The occupancy rate in hotels in Puri is zero now”, said J K Mohanty, chairman, Hotel and Restaurant Association of Oidisha (HRAO).
Puri's hotels have sustained extensive damage with sand dunes building up in their premises. The pilgrim town boasts of 500 hotels known for doing brisk business.
The state's tourism department has come up with an advisory to defer their travel plans to Puri and Konark till the first week of June.
“The damage to the properties of Odisha Tourism Development Corporation and tourism department has been estimated at Rs 19 crore. The loss of the entire industry has not been worked out “, said a senior official of the tourism department.
The district administration has pegged the loss in Puri district alone at more Rs 4000 crore across all sectors.
“We are now doing the damage assessments in Puri as per the government procedures. The relief and restoration work is in full swing. The water supply scenario is urban parts of district is almost normal while 80 per cent of the water supply pipelines in rural areas are running with generators. While the assessment of damage of the hotels in Puri will be done, the relief for the hoteliers will be worked out”, said Balwant Singh, collector, Puri.