Cyclone Amphan: Ravaged Bengal districts await further damage
After the cyclone, the coastal villages in the two Bengal districts are bracing for the impact of spring tide as river embankments lay breached.Updated: May 22, 2020 22:40 IST
At Uchildaha village along river Vidyadhari, about 500 people had gathered on Friday afternoon to repair the embankment that had been breached. Standing amid devastation all around, with only a few brick-built houses still standing but not without damages, these people were desperately trying to fix the 40-feet wide breach.
“It’s time of the low tide and we have no time to waste. If we fail to repair the embankment by 8pm, the spring tide scheduled tonight will leave nothing in this village,” said Manas Mahato, pradhan of Atpukur gram panchayat, within Minakhan assembly constituency in Basirhat sub-division of North 24-Parganas district. Uchildaha is about 55 km from Kolkata.
On Wednesday, Vidyadhari’s water flowed into the village through the breach and destroyed all fishery ponds that serve as the main source of income, and grounded all houses with mud-walls or those with roofs made of tin, tiles and asbestos.
The case of Uchildaha was no one-off incident. The cyclone, and the four metres high storm surge that it triggered, left gaping holes in the embankments along the rivers. Reports of breach in the embankments came from more than a 100 places across Basirhat subdivision in North 24-Parganas and the sub-divisions of Kakdwip and Canning in South 24-Paraganas. With breached embankments, Friday nights’ spring tide may bring another wave of destruction for people living in the remote villages in the coastal areas and in the remote islands of the Sunderban delta.
“Thursday night is the most crucial. The water will swell further. It is the new moon and more water will gush in. We don’t know what to do. We will have to go back to the school building with our children where we had taken shelter during the storm,” said Shibayan Paloi, resident of Gobindorampur in Kakdwip of South 24 Pargaans.
With the new moon scheduled on May 22, scientists said that the ‘spring tide’ phase - when average tidal ranges are higher – has already started. It will hit its peak around 11 pm on Thursday. Add to this the diurnal high tide.
“Embankments along rivers Ichhamoti, Bidyadhari, Dasha, Rayamangal and Bethni have been breached in most areas. The panchayats are working to fix the breached embankments and more people have been evacuated on Friday to avert further loss of human lives,” said Sukumar Mahato, MLA from Sandeshkhali.
Even though several remote islands in the Sunderbans and in the costal blocks still remained disconnected even on Friday as telecommunication was yet to be restored, reports of major breaches in the embankment on rivers Matla and Raymangal poured in from areas such as Patharpratima, Kultali and Gosaba blocks in South 24 Parganas. At Minakhan, Bidyadhari’s embankment breached at 11 places, destroying hundreds of houses, fishery ponds and hundreds of acres of farmland. In neighbouring Sandeshkhali, embankments were breached at 15 places.
According to a senior administration officer of North 24-Parganas district, initially 350 evacuated people were kept in relief centres. “Later, we have created 100 more shelters to save people from the flooding through breached embankments and the prospect of the spring tide,” the officer said.
The roads to Minakhan, Sandeshkali, Hingalganjm Kakdwip and Gosaba areas stood witness to unprecedented devastation. Several gram panchayat areas remained out of bounds because hundreds of trees, electric poles and towers and mobile towers laid grounded, blocking important roads.
Virtually no mud-house or brick-built houses with tin, asbestos or tiles-made roofs survived the storm and hundreds of fallen trees, electric poles, towers and mobile towers left many areas out of bounds till Friday evening. Bridges and culverts were damaged, too.
Uchildaha resident Hasan Sardar said, “Everything in our village is lost. The houses, the crops on the fields, the fishes in the ponds and there is no trace of a large number of cattle. The village will be washed away if we fail to repair the breached embankment before the spring tide arrives.”
At villages of Sarabaria, Muchikhola, Mallickbheri in Minakhan and Haroa arreas of North 24-Parganas, some were seen trying to repair the embankments, others were trying to repair their houses, too little of which were left. Many had covered the remaining structure with tarpaulins. There was crisis of drinking water and dry food supplied by the local authorities was the only things available for eating.
“Tiger prawns, lobsters and bektis from all fishery ponds have been washed away to the river. Rs 100 crore loss is estimated in the fishery sector alone in Minakhan,” said Mrityunjay Mondal, Minakhan’s Trinamool Congress leader, and former MLA, who was supervising the relief work.
Smell of rotting fish filled the air in Gobindarampur village in Kakdwip, a costal block in South 24 Parganas – one of the worst-hit districts in south Bengal. Local residents said that saline water gushed into the village on Wednesday, killng Rohu, Katla and Pangash fishes in the fishery ponds, and also triggering a water crisis.
“We used the pond water to cook. The cattle used to drink this water. Now we have to depend on only one tube well in the entire village,” said Hiren das, a Gobindarampur resident.
The cyclone has claimed 86 lives in the state, devastated the districts of South 24-Parganas and North 24-Parganas and severely damaged Kolkata, Howrah, Hooghly, East Midnapore and West Midnapore districts.