Cyclone Wrecks Indian Research Centers

NEW DELHI--The powerful cyclone that swept across parts of eastern India late last month severely damaged at least two major Indian laboratories. The storm, which packed winds of up to 280 kilometers per hour, "ravaged the entire campus" of the Central Rice Research Institute (CRRI) in Cuttack, says its director, Shanti Bhushan Lodh. The winds also destroyed much of the collection of rare and exotic plants at the Regional Plant Resource Center (RPRC) in Bhubaneshwar.

More than 7500 people died and 20 million were left homeless in the eastern state of Orissa when the cyclone struck on 29 October. The storm surge drove seawater as far as 15 kilometers inland. It has been described as the worst cyclone of the century.

At the CRRI, India's premier rice research center, all windows facing north were shattered, and the biotechnology, biochemistry, and engineering departments are still filled knee-deep with water. Lodh estimates that material losses alone will surpass $500,000. The 170 acres of experimental rice plots were also devastated; Lodh estimates that only one-third of the 10,000 rice varieties grown there survived the winds and flooding. Gurdev Khush of the International Rice Research Institute in Los Baños, Philippines, said the devastation will be "a major setback for India's rice research program" and a "tremendous loss" for scientists around the world.

The damage was even heavier at the RPRC, one of the largest botanical gardens in the world, spread over 487 acres on the outskirts of the state capital. Most of its valuable collection of rare trees, palms, bamboo, and medicinal and aromatic plants appear to have been destroyed. "It's the only center of its kind in India," says H. Y. Mohan Ram, an economic botanist at the department of environmental biology of the University of Delhi. Director P. Das estimates overall damage at more than $2 million.

Lodh is thankful that none of his 140 scientists lost their lives in the storm, but notes that "morale is very low." A government team visited CRRI last week to assess damages, and Lodh says that the center needs "maximum help" to recover from the devastation.