Sunderbans’ battle against nature has started again.
At 9.30 am on Saturday, tidal waves lashed Chunakhali and Kumirmari islands, already swamped by Cyclone Aila that struck on May 25.
The huge waves were caused by the lunar high tide — locally known as Bhora Kotal — that swelled the rivers and swept into villages, churning out the last vestiges of livelihood from the cyclone victims.
But this is just the beginning. The saline water will hit the islands several times over the next few days eating whatever comes in its way and leave the fields infertile for at least two years.
For now, Sunderbans in reeling under the double impact of Aila, which washed away embankments and caused breaches in others, and the tidal wave that gushed through these gaps.
Villagers who had been frantically trying to plug the breaches over the past few days watched paralysed as the rising water swept through their homes. New areas were inundated and the water level, receding after the cyclone, started rising once again.
“Bandh aro barate hobe. Noyto shob bheshe jabe. Aro boro baan ashbe er por. (Height of the embankments need to be increased. Otherwise everything will get washed away. The water will rise further),” a villager shouted.
Jayanta Naskar, pradhan (head) of Chunakhali gram panchayat, said: “As the full moon approaches, the water will swell more and reach its peak on Monday. It will flow at nearly five metres above normal level.”
At Kumirmari, a two-hour ride on mechanised country boat from Chunakhali, the gurgling water had swept away the debris of thatched huts. New breaches were formed and scores of villagers were fleeing with whatever they could carry.
Sabita Mondol, 50, was leaving in a boat with her two cows. “We have lost everything — our house, 42 sacks of grain and three cows,” she said, tears rolling down her cheeks.
No government official could be spotted in these two islands. Repeated phone calls by villagers to engineers of the state irrigation department went unanswered.
Barun Pramanik, panchayat pradhan of Sambhunagar village, said: “The engineers assured us they would repair the embankments. But they left halfway as the contractors refused to work because of the low payment. We had to take over. This created confusion and valuable time was lost. Had they told us in the beginning, then we would have got more time to save ourselves.”