West Bengal, Odisha flooded as cyclone Amphan wreaks havoc

The toll in India from the cyclone, including the two dead in Odisha on Wednesday, stood at 74 at the time of going to print.
The most powerful cyclone to hit Bangladesh and eastern India in more than 20 years tore down homes, carried cars down flooded streets and claimed the lives of more than a dozen people.(AFP photo)
The most powerful cyclone to hit Bangladesh and eastern India in more than 20 years tore down homes, carried cars down flooded streets and claimed the lives of more than a dozen people.(AFP photo)
Updated on May 22, 2020 01:53 AM IST
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Hindustan Times, Kolkata/Bhubaneswar/New Delhi | ByHT Correspondent

Cyclone Amphan killed at least 72 people and left a trail of destruction and damage in West Bengal, where rescue teams on Thursday struggled to reach ruined coastal hamlets that bore the brunt of the storm’s fury before it moved on to neighbouring Bangladesh.

The toll in India from the cyclone, including the two dead in Odisha on Wednesday, stood at 74 at the time of going to print.

The loss of life may have been much more had it not been for the evacuation of 658,000 people -- 500,000 in West Bengal and 158,000 in Odisha -- before the cyclone arrived. Those moved to relief camps have been asked not to step out or return to their homes for fear that they may come in contact with high-tension electric cables that have snapped and be electrocuted.

WATCH | Cyclone Amphan leaves trail of destruction in Odisha & West Bengal

The death toll included 15 who died in Kolkata. Chief minister Mamata Banerjee said most of the 72 deaths had been caused by electrocution and falling trees. The deceased in Odisha were a two-month-old baby and a woman.

In Bangladesh, initial reports said that 10 people were killed.

“Several districts have been totally ruined. We never thought that it would be so destructive,” Banerjee said as her government tried to arrive at an estimate of the damage done by Amphan, the most powerful storm to have originated in the Bay of Bengal since the 1999 Odisha super cyclone that killed 9,000 people.

“Two districts – North and South 24 Parganas -- are completely devastated. We have to rebuild those districts from scratch. I would urge the central government to extend all help to the state,” said Banerjee, who is likely to visit the devastated districts on Saturday for a spot assessment of the destruction.

The state government announced compensation of Rs 2.5 lakh for the families of those killed in the cyclone. Banerjee also announced a relief package of Rs 1,000 crore after meeting members of a task force formed to assess relief work needed in the aftermath of cyclone Amphan.

Large parts of West Bengal including many areas in Kolkata and its surrounding areas went without electricity on Thursday and telecom disruptions made it difficult for the state government to contact district headquarters for an assessment of the situation, including the number of people displaced by the cyclone. Officials said that in some districts it could take three days to restore power supply.

“Not all the district magistrates could be contacted on Thursday. Those who we could contact have been asked to send a list of immediate requirements which we can send,” West Bengal chief secretary Rajiva Sinha told reporters at the state secretariat.

Banerjee said she had requested Prime Minister Narendra Modi to visit the cyclone-hit areas, adding that home minister Amit Shah had called her and assured her of help. Banerjee said help should arrive fast and not after 500 days. “We haven’t received any money to fight the Covid-19 pandemic till date,” the CM said.

The storm, which made landfall around 20km east of Sagar Island in the Sunderbans on Wednesday afternoon, packing winds gusting to a top speed of 185 kilometres per hour, cut off road links, snapped telecommunications and left parts of West Bengal without electricity. It flattened houses, uprooted trees and power pylons, causing rivers to swell and breach their embankments. It hit Kolkata at a wind speed of 130km per hour.

Reuters Television footage shot in West Bengal showed upturned boats on the shore, people wading through knee-deep water and buses crashed into each other. More images showed villagers trying to lift fallen electricity poles, fishermen hauling their boats out of a choppy sea, and uprooted trees lying strewn across the countryside.

“Have been seeing visuals from West Bengal on the devastation caused by Cyclone Amphan. In this challenging hour, the entire nation stands in solidarity with West Bengal. Praying for the well-being of the people of the state. Efforts are on to ensure normalcy,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted on Thursday.

Designated a super cyclone, Amphan has weakened since making landfall. Moving inland through Bangladesh, it was downgraded to a cyclonic storm on Thursday by the Indian weather office. The storm was expected to subside into a depression later.

The National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) said on Thursday that the India Meteorological Department’s (IMD) “climatological intelligence” was accurate and helped in saving lives while minimising damage.IMD used a doppler weather radar (monitoring tool for severe weather) on the east and west coasts to come up with an accurate cyclone track with near-accurate wind speed and landfall point predictions.

IMD’s director general, M Mohapatra, said: “This shows India can face cyclones and can save life and property.”

NDRF director general SN Pradhan said Odisha may bounce back to normalcy in the next 24 to 48 hours. The West Bengal government has sought four more NDRF teams which are being airlifted from Chennai and Pune, he said.

“Restoration work has started from late last night. If more teams needed, we can deploy more,” said Pradhan adding that the overall damage has not yet been assessed and the death toll may change as reports from the ground start coming in.

Concern was, meanwhile, growing over flooding in the Sundarbans, an ecologically fragile region straddling the India-Bangladesh border, best known for thick mangrove forests and its tiger reserve.

“The tidal surge submerged some part of the forest,” said Belayet Hossain, a forest official on the Bangladesh side of the forest. “We have seen trees uprooted, the tin roofs of the guard towers blown off,” he said.

Over on the Indian side of the Sundarbans, a village official said embankments surrounding a low-lying island, where some 5,000 people live, had been washed away, and he had been unable to contact authorities for help.

“We have not been able inform them about anything since last night, the official, Sanjib Sagar, said.

(Reuters contributed to this story)

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