Kolkata/Bhubaneswar, May 21 (PTI): Cyclone Amphan weakened Thursday, a day after tearing through West Bengal where 72 people were killed and two districts were “completely devastated” with thousands of people left homeless, bridges washed away and low-lying areas in waist deep water.
The fiercest cyclone to hit West Bengal in 100 years destroyed mud houses and crops, and uprooted trees and electric poles. It also wreaked havoc in Odisha damaging power and telecom infrastructure in several coastal districts. Odisha government officials estimated that the cyclone has affected around 44.8 lakh people in the state.
“So far as per the reports we have received, 72 people have died in the state due to Cyclone Amphan. Two districts — North and South 24 Pargana — are completely devastated. We have to rebuild those districts from scratch. I would urge the Central government to extend all help to the state,” Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee told reporters after conducting a review meeting with officials.
“I will visit the affected areas very soon. The restoration work will start soon. A large part of North and South 24 Parganas and Kolkata are facing massive power cut since last evening. Even telephone and mobile connections are down,” she said.
“I have never witnessed such a fierce cyclone and destruction in my life. I would request Prime Minister Narendra Modi to come and visit Cyclone Amphan-affected areas.”
The chief minister also announced a compensation of Rs 2 lakh to Rs 2.5 lakh for the family members of each of the deceased.
Besides North and South 24 Parganas and Kolkata, the districts of East Midnapore and Howrah were the worst hit as portions of several dilapidated buildings came crashing down in several places.
The death toll included 17 from North 24 Parganas, 15 from Kolkata, 10 from Basirhat and four from the South 24 Parganas-Sunderban region, officials said.
“Never in my life have I seen a cyclone like this in Bengal,” said 95-year-old Ashok Roy, a retired school teacher in Kolkata visibly shaken by the ferocity of the cyclone.
Senior officials of the West Bengal government said it was too early to estimate the exact death toll or damage to property as the worst hit areas were still not accessible.
In Kolkata, hundreds of cars were overturned in the strong winds with speed up to 125 kmph that also felled trees and electricity poles blocking key arterial roads and intersections. Large parts of Kolkata and other affected districts went without power.
Mobile and internet services were also disrupted as the fierce cyclone had damaged several communication towers.
Residents recalled “living through hell” for six hours as the winds howled incessantly.
Windows buckled from the pressure of the storm, cars floated on water logged roads, bumping against each other. Parts of air conditioners were flying around like missiles.
Buses and taxis crashed against each other, small fishing boats turned turtle and grounded planes shook at the inundated Kolkata airport.
“The worst was the wind. The six hours went very slowly yesterday,” said Mithu Chatterjee who lives on the fifth floor of a 30-storey building. Many residents who lived on the top floors wanted to come down but lifts were shut.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi said no stone will be left unturned in helping those affected by the cyclone.
“Have been seeing visuals from West Bengal on the devastation caused by Cyclone Amphan,” he tweeted.
In this challenging hour, the entire nation stands in solidarity with West Bengal, the prime minister said.
Union Home Minister Amit Shah spoke to Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik and his West Bengal counterpart Banjerjee, and assured them of all central help.
The Indian Meteorological Departmnt (IMD) said the cyclone has weakened significantly and moved to Bangladesh where 10 people have been killed.
Chief Minister Banerjee, who has been monitoring the situation at state secretariat Nabanna since Tuesday night, said the impact of Amphan was “worse than coronavirus”.
“The situation is very serious. We are in a state of disaster,” the TMC chief was earlier quoted as having said in an official statement.
“No bridges exist, electricity lines have been completely disabled and damaged,” Banerjee said while describing the situation in the worst hit districts.
In several shelter homes in the affected districts, people were seen jostling for food and shelter ignoring the social distancing norms due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
More than five lakh people were already evacuated to safety by the state government.
“It is not the city where I have grown up… it seems to be a destroyed one. It seems there was a war yesterday… I cannot believe that this is my Kolkata,” said Sudhir Chakraborty, a resident of south Kolkata’s Rashbehari area.
Kolkata Mayor Firhad Hakim said more than 14 lakh people in the city are living without electricity since Wednesday night.
“The entire city has been devastated. Around 4,000 trees have been uprooted in Kolkata. We are short of staff due to the Lockdown. It will take some time to restore normalcy,” Hakim said.
Packing heavy rain and winds with speeds of up to 190 kmph, the cyclone barrelled through coastal districts of North and South 24 Parganas of Bengal and Odisha on Wednesday unleashing copious rain and windstorm.
The National Crisis Management Committee (NCMC) reviewed the rescue and relief operations in West Bengal and Odisha at a meeting in Delhi and was told that minimal loss of lives was reported due to accurate forecast by the IMD and timely deployment of NDRF troops.
Headed by Cabinet Secretary Rajiv Gauba, the NCMC was told by the chief secretaries of West Bengal and Odisha that timely and accurate forecast by the IMD and advance deployment of the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) facilitated in evacuation of about five lakh people in West Bengal and about two lakh in Odisha.
This has resulted in minimal loss of human lives, considering the fact that the intensity of the Amphan was next only to that of the super cyclone that struck Odisha in 1999 causing large scale devastation, an official statement said in Delhi.
The NDRF is moving additional teams to West Bengal to speed up restoration work, especially in Kolkata.
The Food Corporation of India will also ensure adequate availability of food grains, especially rice, to West Bengal so that marooned people are provided immediate sustenance.
The Power Ministry and Department of Telecommunications will also assist in the early restoration of services in both the states.
The Railways, which suffered major damages to its infrastructure, is in the process of restarting its operations at the earliest, the statement said.
The West Bengal government informed there were major damages to agriculture, power and telecommunication facilities in the affected areas.
Odisha informed that damages have been mainly limited to agriculture.
At Kolkata central avenue, a small concrete temple situated at the base of a banyan tree was uprooted.
According to officials, more than 1,000 mobile towers across the state and city have been completely destroyed.
Streets and homes in low lying areas of Kolkata were swamped with rainwater.
Embankments in Sundarban delta – a UNESCO site – were breached as the surge whipped up by the cyclone inundated several kilometres of the Island.
Four jetties in South 24 Parganas also collapsed on Wednesday night due to the storm.
According to the state agricultural department, paddy crop in districts of Burdwan, West Midnapore and Hooghly has been completely destroyed due to the savage cyclone.
Teams of the NDRF and State Disaster Relief Force (SDRF) have been working on a war footing to clear the roads blocked by the falling trees.