Rescue operations on in cyclone-hit West Bengal
A day after Cyclone Aila battered coastal West Bengal, especially 24 Parganas district, uprooting trees, snapping power cables and leaving a trail of destruction in its wake, rescue operations were on in full swing on Tuesday with the army also moving in to help.
The cyclone, that has left 27 people dead and affected more than 400,000 others, has begun to weaken and move off.
The state government carried out rescue operations in Kolkata's neighbouring South 24-Parganas district where the cyclone and the accompanying heavy rains inundated large swathes of land and left thousands homeless.
Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee visited many of the affected islands in the Sundarbans delta and held meetings with the district administration and police officials at Jamtala and Nimpith villages to chalk out plans for the rescue operation.
"Over four lakh people are affected due to yesterday's (Monday) Cyclone Aila. I have told my officers to provide dry food to all the cyclone victims. The Sundarbans development authority has started rescue operations in different parts of the district," Bhattacharjee told reporters after a meeting with Sundarban Affairs Minister Kanti Ganguly and senior district officials at Jamtala.
He said the army had been called for carrying out rescue operations in different parts of Sundarbans Islands. "We'll also seek the army's help to reach assistance to Pathapratima, Gosaba and Basanti Island," he said.
Addressing hundreds of homeless villagers at a temporary rescue camp, he assured them that the state government would provide compensation within next two days.
"Thousands of pouches of drinking water has been distributed among the cyclone victims and the state government has also opened several community kitchens across Sundarbans region," Bhattacharjee added.
According to the Alipur Met office, Cyclone Aila has weakened and is now heading in a northern direction. "The cyclone is passing through the northern districts of West Bengal," a Met official told IANS.
"The north Bengal districts are likely to witness medium to heavy rain over the next day," he said.
According to the Ministry of Defence-Eastern Command sources, two columns of army, each consisting of 100 personnel, have been sent to the Sundarbans for carrying out relief operations. Air dropping of food packets was also carried out in the district.
Meanwhile, union Railways Minister Mamata Banerjee visited parts of Kakdeep Island in the Sundarbans. She travelled to the area by local train after formally taking over charge as the union railways minister here.
Train services were largely hit in both Eastern Railway (ER) and South Eastern Railway (SER). A number of long-distance and local trains were cancelled in the aftermath of the cyclone that uprooted trees that blocked rail tracks in many places.
Telephone and mobile networks, ATMs, broadband services and the cable television network were also hit across Kolkata and its adjoining districts after Monday's devastation.