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Update: Catastrophic damage reported in Puri after Cyclone Fani

The latest update from India says city of Puri is "totally destroyed" following devastating Cylone Fani which tore through the region last weekend.

A local news channel has put the official death toll in the Indian state of Odisha at 37, but reports from partners on the ground have told of widespread "destruction and devastation" following Cyclone Fani, the region's strongest storm in two decades.

‘Since the cyclonic storm landed on the morning of May 3, Puri has been totally cut off,’ said Fr Baptist Dsouza, Executive Director of the Karunalaya Leprosy Care Centre in the coastal town popular with tourists.

'I'm still not sure of the extent of damage in the colony, but along with others in the city, we too are in deep shock looking at the destruction and devastation caused at Karunalaya.'

Catholic Mission is accepting donations towards the recovery efforts, including pastoral care and repair and restoration of infrastructure.

Fr Baptist, who is currently away from the area on leave, predicted when the storm hit that the damage would be extensive. ‘Devastation to property will be immense. Of course, the poor will be most affected,’ he told Catholic Mission on Friday.

With communication cut off, he had no idea just how extensive, until contacted by colleagues who survived the category 4 cyclone.

'Listening to their experience during these days of total isolation and the volume of destruction, I am deeply shocked with a chill running down my spine.'

Beatrix School

A student studies at the Beatrix School, which is now hosting up to 1,000 people displaced by Cyclone Fani

'Puri city is totally destroyed,' Fr Baptist relayed. 'No trees are standing; all electric poles, installations, mobile towers [are down]; roofs of hotels and houses made of asbestos or steel were blown off; the sea beach road resembles a mountain of sand; and hotels along the beach totally destroyed with sand and rubble blown in by the storm.'

Lawrence Gigliotti, Catholic Mission’s Programs Manager, has been in contact with Fr Baptist and partners in Odisha, since the cyclone hit. The mission agency has partnered with the Maitland-Newcastle Catholic Schools Office to support the Karunalaya Leprosy Care Centre through a workplace giving program.

'Teachers Helping Teachers has supported the development of a self-sustaining dairy for the Karunalaya Leprosy Care Centre,’ Mr Gigliotti explained. 'The dairy provides milk each day to the students at the school and the leprosy patients at the hospital, with surplus products sold to generate income for the Centre.'

In addition, Catholic Mission has provided funding and project support for a hospital, kitchen, retreat centre and a school within the Karunalaya Centre, all of which have suffered extensive damage according to Fr Baptist.

The damage to the building and property of Karunalaya, Ishopanthi Ashram retreat centre, and the Beatrix School is beyond words,' he said. 'Even a fair assessment of the damage may take a few days. Clearing the debris and fallen trees may take a couple of weeks.'

Fr Baptist reported that approximately one thousand people were taking shelter in the Beatrix School since noon Friday, with the government providing food.

Mr Gigliotti said the reports from the ground were shocking. 'Fr Baptist's account of the damage and despair is a harrowing one to read,' he said. 'We share the deep shock and sadness of our friends in India at the scale of destruction and tragedy and we will continue to prayerfully and financially support them in whatever way we can.'

Fr Baptist urged prayer and solidarity.

You all have been with us in the thick and thin of our life in the Puri mission,' he said. 'I only pray God shows us the way and gives us the strength to stand amidst this destruction.

With such extensive damage and tens of thousands now left homeless or displaced as a result of the cyclone, Mr Gigliotti said Catholic Mission will remain in close contact with Fr Baptist and other partners.

‘We will continue to monitor the situation as it develops in Puri,’ Mr Gigliotti said. ‘The church is working with the government and other agencies on the ground to manage the situation.’

Catholic Mission National Director Father Brian Lucas called for prayerful support. 'The reports coming in from our partners in India are distressing and we continue to keep all affected by this catastrophe in our prayers daily,' he said. 'We are assessing what further responses are possible at this time.'

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Main photo: ABC News

Originally published as: Millions escape death in India as Cyclone Fani rips through India and Bangladesh

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