72 dead as Cyclone Amphan weakens into deep depression after battering Bengal; 'worse than coronavirus' says Mamata as Modi vows support

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. 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.

Shanties were destroyed, thousands of trees uprooted and low-lying parts of the state were swamped as Cyclone Amphan (pronounced UM-PUN), reaching wind speeds of up to 185 kmph, pulverised most of south Bengal in six-and-a-half hours of monstrous fury.

 72 dead as Cyclone Amphan weakens into deep depression after battering Bengal; worse than coronavirus says Mamata as Modi vows support

File image of Mamata Banerjee. Image courtesy News18

Kolkata, which has been without power since Wednesday evening, saw its homes and streets fill with rainwater and its airport flooded after the cyclonic storm slammed into the state's Digha coast at 2.30 pm Wednesday, triggering heavy rainfall all over the state.

The districts of East Midnapore, Howrah, North and South 24 Parganas were worst-hit.

Other affected districts were also without electricity as power lines were blown away. Mobile and internet services were also down as the cyclone damaged several communication towers.  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.

It also wreaked havoc in Odisha damaging power and telecom infrastructure in several coastal districts. Odisha government officials estimated it has affected around 44.8 lakh people in the state.

The cyclone also wreaked havoc in Bangladesh, killing at least 10 people, devastating coastal villages, inundating many areas and damaging scores of houses, officials said on Thursday.

'Crisis worse than coronavirus'

Chief Minister Mamata 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.

"On one hand we are fighting with COVID-19, on the other hand lakhs of migrants are coming back. Over all this, now the cyclone. I think that this is a disaster bigger than COVID-19. I would request [the Centre] please forget politics and cooperate with us and save the people,” Mamata was quoted as saying by The Indian Express.

“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.

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.

Banerjee said on Thursday that of the 72 people who died so far in the state due to the cyclone, 17 of them were from Kolkata. All the deceased were victims of tree, house collapse and electrocution, she added.The chief minister also claimed that damages due to the cyclone could be around Rs 1 lakh crore, NDTV reported.
"Area after area has been devastated," she said, according to NDTV.

TV footage showed gigantic tidal waves crashing into a seawall in Digha and Sunderban. Thick sheets of rain blurred the state's coastline as surging waters engulfed mud-and-thatch houses, flattening them in a trice. Heavy machinery was moved in to clear the roads blocked by falling trees.

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

"The worst was the wind. The six hours went very slowly yesterday," said Mithu Chatterjee who lives on the fifth floor of a 30-story building. Many residents who lived on the top floors wanted to come down but lifts were shut.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday said the entire nation stands with West Bengal and vowed that "no stone will be left unturned" to help the affected.  He said that 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.

"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," he tweeted.

Cyclone Amphan will dissipate further: IMD

The India Meteorological Department said Cyclone Amphan, which has weakened into a deep depression, would further dissipate into a depression.

The IMD said under the influence of the storm, squalls with wind speed 30 to 40 kilometres per hour are very likely in Meghalaya and west Assam during the next 12 hours.

The western districts of Assam and Meghalaya will also witness "light to moderate rainfall at most places with heavy to very heavy falls at isolated places," it added.

Death and devastation

Even though the cyclone has dissipated into a depression, the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) has urged people not to venture outside till an "all clear" signal is issued by the government.

While a man and a woman were killed when trees came crashing down on them in North 24 Parganas district, a 13-year-old girl died in a similar incident in adjoining Howrah, officials said. Four persons were killed in Hooghly and North 24 Parganas districts due to electrocution, they said.

A woman and her seven-year-old son were killed in the Regent Park area of Kolkata after a tree fell on them, while two persons died due to electrocution in Behala area, the officials said.

At Kolkata's Central Avenue, a small concrete temple situated at the base of a banyan tree was uprooted. More than 500 trees, along with few hundred electric posts, traffic signals and police kiosks have been uprooted as well, said a KMC official. Thousands of people have been rendered homeless, officials said.

Portions of several dilapidated buildings came crashing down in Kolkata and other parts of the state. Embankments in Sundarban delta,  a UNESCO site, were breached as the surge whipped up by the cyclone inundated several kilometers of the Island.

According to state agricultural department, paddy crop in districts of Burdwan, West Midnapore and Hooghly has been completely destroyed due to the monstrous cyclone.

Relief, restoration underway on war footing

Teams of NDRF and State Disaster Relief Force (SDRF) has been working on a war footing to clear the roads. Heavy machinery was moved in to clear the roads blocked by uprooted trees.

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.  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.  According to officials, more than 1,000 mobile towers across the state and city have been completely destroyed.

With inputs from PTI

Updated Date: May 21, 2020 19:58:25 IST

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