A day before the full moon high tide coming close on the heels of the devastation caused by Cyclone Aila, the West Bengal government has admitted that it would be unable to repair a large part of the 400 km of damaged embankments in the mangrove-forested delta of the Sundarbans.
The full moon high tide scheduled on Sunday, considerably stronger than a normal high tide, has given rise to fears of fresh inundation and consequent massive devastation in an area where around 400,000 people live. The embankments have either been breached or weakened by Cyclone Aila which hit 13 of the 19 districts of the state May 25.
"There is a total of 3,500 km of embankment in the Sundarbans. Out of that 400 km has been breached. But it is not possible for us to repair more than 50-60 percent of it," state Sundarbans Affairs Minister Kanti Ganguly told IANS on Saturday.
The minister appealed to the able bodied people of the coastal regions of the North 24 Parganas and South 24 Parganas districts, which harbour the Indian part of the Sundarbans, to help strengthen the embankements.
"They must rush to the embankments with gunny bags, soil and shovels. If there is any fresh breach, that must be taken care of immediately," said Ganguly, who has been shuttling between remote Gosaba and Basanti to supervise relief operations in the worst-hit South 24 Parganas district.
Asked whether the government, which drew flak for inadequate relief distribution after the Aila damage, had succeeded in making foolproof arrangements, Ganguly said: "The geographical location of the Sundarbans is such there would always be gaps."
He said measures have been taken to make arrangements for sufficient water pouches in all the islands. "People have been asked to take shelter in safe school buildings," he said.
The entire Sundarbans region - areas like Gosaba, Patharpramita, Kultali, Hingalganj, Basanti, Sagar, Mousuni and others - has been ravaged by the cyclone, which left 128 people dead in its wake.
Ganguly said to reach medical facilities to the victims, village quacks are being trained at the initiative of some private organisations. "We have also started saline water de-watering of 50,000 ponds."
Irrigation minister Subhas Naskar said a large number of bamboo checkposts are being constructed in several key points.
"Three state ministers, myself (civil defence minister) Srikumar Mukherjee and Ganguly will take charge at different points. They will take spot decisions if the tide causes damages."
Meanwhile the state government was evacuating people in low-lying areas to safe zones.
Mukherjee said civil defence personnel have reached their areas of deployment by Friday.