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Cyclone Alia Strands Millions - Indian Travel Companies Support Relief


Heavy rains caused deadly mudslides and slowed rescue efforts Wednesday after Cyclone Aila pounded eastern India and Bangladesh, killing at least 191 people.

Travel companies The Blue Yonder, and Help Tourism are currently co-ordinating with their partners in the affected area to ensure that they support them based on their needs.

Facebook group 'Cyclone Aila2009 Support group' is coordinating the fund raising

Said Gopinath Parayil of The Blue Yonder: "For me personally, it was also a call from a field I was trained in. Soon after my Masters in Disaster Management at Cranfield University in the UK, I ended up setting up The Blue Yonder to help bring attention to a river (River Nila) that was turning into an ecological disaster. Responsible Tourism is also about giving back to the destination we all work in, and this is one such opportunity, where I thought it would be useful for my people to use those skills in Disaster Management."

"When we first saw the news flash of Cyclone Aila hitting West Bengal on the 24th May 2009, we called up our friends working in Sunderbans and came to know of the devasting impacts."

"Colleagues from Association for Conservation and Tourism (ACT) had already started collecting relief materials without waiting for any support to come through from elsewhere."

"It was clear that they were running against time and hard-pressed for resources. It was at this juncture we decided to form an alliance between Help Tourism, The Blue Yonder and Travel to Care to help raise funds. More than sending relief materials from different locations, it made sense to raise funds for them, so that the money can be used to re-vitalise the local economy and our ground volunteers can purchase according to the local requirements."

"We are partnering with Charities Aid Foundation in India to ensure an accountable and transparent way of donation to the people in need."

"The travel companies involved have also partnered with Charities Aid Foundation - India to coordinate the fund raising and disbursements. The ground work is co-ordinated through Association for Conservation and Tourism, based in Kolkota".

The cyclone has destroyed thousands of homes and stranded millions of people in flooded villages before it began to ease Tuesday. The death toll will likely rise in both countries as rescue workers reach cut-off areas. Mudslides in India's famed Darjeeling tea district killed at least 22 people overnight, said Asim Dasgupta, the finance minister of the worst-affected West Bengal state in India - about 2.3 million people were affected or stranded in flooded villages.

Soldiers have been deployed to take food, water and medicine to hundreds of thousands of people stranded in flooded villages. At least 500,000 villagers were affected or stranded, mostly by flash floods caused by tidal surges, said Ziaul Alam, the local administrator in Bangladesh's Khulna district.

The cyclone also caused damage in the Sundarbans, a tangle of mangrove forests that is home to one of the world's largest tiger populations.Conservationists have expressed concern over the tigers' fate.

At least one tiger from the flooded reserve took refuge in a house. Forest guards tranquilized it and were planning to release it once the waters subside, said Belinda Wright of the Wildlife Protection Society of India, which assisted in the operation.

It is believed about 250 tigers live on the Indian side of the Sundarbans and another 250 live on the Bangladeshi side. Conservationists in India said water levels were too high for ecologists and forest officials to enter the area and assess the extent of the damage. N.C. Bahuguna, a senior Indian conservation official, said water sources were likely contaminated by salt water from the sea.

Valere Tjolle



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