A very severe cyclonic storm named ‘Sidr’ on Thursday hit Bangladesh’s southern coast, wiping out homes and uprooting trees in what officials described as the worst storm in years. Reports at the time of going to press suggested that the storm might have spared the West Bengal coast narrowly.
“The cyclone has battered Bangladeshi coastal areas. The velocity of the wind in that area is 220 to 240 kilometres,” said Samarendra Karmakar, the director of Bangladesh’s meteorological department. Around 650,000 villagers were evacuated from the coastal areas. No casualties were immediately reported, but rescue teams were on standby, an official said, adding that communications with remote areas and offshore islands were cut.
In Delhi, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the cabinet discussed emergency measures. The air force was asked to remain on standby to provide helicopters for relief at short notice. The Ministry of Home Affairs issued warnings to West Bengal, Orissa and Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
In West Bengal, warnings were issued in Howrah, Hooghly, North and South 24 Paraganas and east Midnapore districts. There was panic in Kolkata, where people remained glued to TV screens and weather websites for the latest on the storm. There were sighs of relief as news came in that the cyclone had spared the state. However, Regional Meteorological Centre director G.C. Debnath told PTI that the entire gangetic belt of West Bengal would experience heavy to very heavy rain in the next 24 hours.
Earlier, the Airports Authority of India had planned to divert all incoming aircraft to Kolkata to other airports. Both Eastern and South Eastern Railways decided to discontinue all trains between 11 pm and 4 am.
The West Bengal government has alerted the army to remain on standby to assist the civil administration. Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya reviewed the government’s preparedness to face the impending disaster. He said the cyclone has taken the form of a super cyclone with a windspeed of 200 km.
In Orissa, four coastal districts were put on alert. Food stocks were rushed to these districts and relief materials were being readied. Cyclone Sidr’s winds were gusting to 306 kilometres per hour and waves in the vicinity of the storm’s eye were 12 meters high, according to a cyclone warning center website.