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The aftermath of Cyclone Gaja in Tamil Nadu state, India. The aftermath of Cyclone Gaja in Tamil Nadu state, India.  (AFP or licensors)

Indian Church, government in relief operations after Cyclone Gaja

Churches, including a Marian shrine among the thousands of buildings damaged by storm in Tamil Nadu state.

A devastating cyclone killed more than 40 people and displaced hundreds of others at the weekend as it tore a destructive path across southern India, severely damaging farmland and buildings including the region's most revered Marian shrine.

Catholic Church agencies have joined Tamil Nadu state government in relief efforts to help people affected by Cyclone Gaja in Thanjavur Diocese and Pondicherry-Cuddalore Archdiocese.

Officials say at least 46 people were killed and more than 100,000 displaced when their thatched homes were blown away by strong winds and driving rain that hit coastal areas early on Nov. 16, when the Gaja made landfall.

"More than 122,000 people have been evacuated and are in 351 relief camps, while rescue teams are helping others in villages, cut off by the storm," said John Arokiaraj of Caritas India, the Catholic Church's social action arm in the region.

He said at least 10,120 houses were destroyed and another 5,770 partially damaged, while 1,300 fishing boats and other fishing gear were damaged. Livestock, crops and coconut trees were badly affected were also destroyed, he said.

The worst-hit areas were in Tanjavur Diocese. "The livelihoods of our people are destroyed when their fishing equipment or livestock and farmlands were destroyed," diocesan chancellor Fr. John Zacharias said.

Velakanni Marian shrine

More than 30 churches, including the renowned Basilica of Our Lady of Good Health at Velakanni, some 60 chapels and 15 schools were also damaged in the cyclone, he said.

Rector of the Marian Shrine, Father Maria Anotony Prabhakar, said the storm blew away a cross atop one of shrine's two towers.

"Another building in the compound also suffered damage," he told The hands of a 20-meter-high statue of Jesus Christ also suffered damaged.

"There was no loss of life or injury at the shrine," he added.

The shrine, a pilgrim center since the 16th century, attracts some 20 million people a year. Church officials said some 3 million of them come during a 11-day long annual festival that concludes on Sept. 8, which Catholic celebrate as Mary's birthday.

Despite the damage, hundreds of people were taking shelter in the buildings within the shrine compound, while 15 other Catholic parishes were also providing shelter and assisting people, church officials said.

Indian bishops’ condolence

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI) expressed its solidarity with “all people suffering from this calamity”  saying it “desires to help all people irrespective of their religion, community or provenience.”            

“We pray for the repose of the departed people and even as we offer our condolences to the affected families we assure them of our support and comfort,” wrote CBCI Secretary-General Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas in a statement.

He said Caritas India is assessing the damage and will begin immediate relief intervention as soon as possible.

The Catholic Bishops reiterated their “desire to work with the government and all people of good will to provide succour to the suffering people.”   (Source: UCANEWS)

19 November 2018, 15:57