Tuesday 01 September 2015 at 21:10The Faces Of Cyclone Hudhud
by Yeb Saño,
The young mother wiped the sweat on her forehead with her saree as she continued to waft some air into the embers. She placed two cobs of corn over the coal and let it toast as she rolled the cobs to even out the cooking. Lakshmama had a very friendly demeanor, and while her smile was coy, it revealed a cheery vibe. Sai, her 10 year old son squatted beside her in her makeshift street side roasted-corn stand. The boy matched his mother’s affability, and exhibited an alertness that had a sharpness about it. Selling roasted corn was the only means of living for this family.
A family whose lives have been torn up by an extreme event that had never happened to them or for anyone in Visakhapatnam before.
When the conversation came to Cyclone Hudhud, tears started to well in Lakshmama’s eyes. She related how her entire home was lost to the storm that hit her village with storm surges from the sea towering above their heads and destroying everything in its path. Hudhud hit the eastern coast of India ten months ago — since then, millions of people have been affected and thousands lost their homes. “I can’t talk about it anymore, I am already getting emotional,” she ruefully asserts. Instead, she asked Sai to bring us to the place where their house once stood.
Visakhapatnam is a coastal city in the state of Andra Pradesh on the Bay of Bengal that was ravaged by Cyclone Hudhud in October 2014. Nicknamed Vizag, this city is home to about 2 million people and is also the only natural harbor on the eastern seaboard of India.
As we made our way to the seaside cluster of homes, or where they once used to be, the scene was heartbreaking, as it became clear that the entire village had been washed away by the torrent. What remained were low piles of bricks and stone, and Sai pointed to where they used to eat dinner and where he used to sleep.
Yeb and SaiI felt an eerie pang of familiar agony as the scene reminded me of the people in my own country who went through the most harrowing experience when Typhoon Haiyan left a wide swathe of devastation two years ago. This conversation with Sai also brought me back to the very start of this Pilgrimage, when in Vanuatu I listened to our friends from the Pacific who retold their stories of ordeal from Cyclone Pam with forlorn but with the mettle of people who will not take the climate crisis sitting down.
As we walked through Bheemli, this little village of 50 families, I felt a sense of paradox engulf me.
What stood before our eyes were people living in makeshift homes with palm leaves as roofing and making do with the remnants of their old homes. Starkly despite these circumstances, they were among the warmest people we’ve ever encountered, welcoming us so graciously into their community, and the children frolicked about and played among the ruins flashing their beautiful smiles and infecting us with their cheerful laughter.
As we walked through other villages in Vizag, we saw the great impact and encumbering effect that even a single extreme weather event could bring to these communities. The level of recovery varied greatly from village to village, and this holds true for every country that has faced the wrath of disasters.
But one thing was common – people are standing up, even against the odds.
As long as the people in the periphery are regarded as collateral damage for unlimited growth, these communities will remain vulnerable. It behooves us to embrace those who suffer and walk with them.
Like in the Philippines and Vanuatu, it was an uplifting experience being with people who have been profoundly impacted by these cruel storms, but who refuse to give up.
“Injustice is not invincible,” I remember a line from Pope Francis’ eco encyclical.
It was therefore with much honor that we walked along the seaside boulevard of Vizag with young people, led by Radhika Sri Paravast, a young Hindu woman leader. We first met Radhika in Rome when she was selected as one among the hundred young emerging multi-faith climate leaders of the world. She was part of an initiative to restore the greenery and rehabilitate animals after Hudhud hit her city.
We basked in the glow of the setting sun and felt the mist from the crashing waves along the bayside boulevard, and we remembered those like Lakshmama and her son Sai, and offered a prayer for us to become instruments of love and peace, in the midst of devastation.
The journey continues and Vizag will forever be in our hearts as we walk to Paris.
Radhika shares a special token with Yeb for his visit to Vizag