Super Cyclone Amphan wreaked havoc in six districts of southern West Bengal on Wednesday night, leaving behind shattered homes, uprooted trees and a collapse of the communication network in the state. Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said that 72 people have lost their lives as a result of the storm, said to be the strongest cyclone in the state for decades.
In a bulletin, the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) said that as of 5 p.m. on Thursday, Amphan had moved north-northeastwards and would weaken into a deep depression over the next three hours.
North 24 Parganas, South 24 Parganas and Nadia were the worst affected districts with the complete destruction of crops like paddy, groundnut and vegetables in the region. Howrah, Hooghli and Medinipur districts have suffered mild damage as well. Farmers have said that the saline water in farms will seriously compromise prospects of future cultivation.
According to reports, Kolkata Airport remained flooded after the heavy deluge and several internal structures were damaged as well. National Disaster Relief Force (NDRF) Chief S.N. Pradhan said that the Cabinet Secretary Rajiv Gauba held a meeting with Chief Secretaries of West Bengal and Odisha to ascertain the damage. He added that the states will require long-term rescue and relief operations.
Samik Lahiri, District Secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) for South 24 Parganas told NewsClick that the district is facing an acute shortage of drinking water and electricity since the cyclone hit. “The communication network is completely destroyed and I am not able to speak with other people to ascertain the extent of damage to property, life and crops. Roads are completely blocked and movement has completely halted. It is so bad that I cannot even move out from my home,” he added.
Lahiri said that the cyclone has resulted in the collapse of many thatched or semi-pucca houses covered with asbestos sheets. “The government had prepared shelters for one night but thousands of people are homeless now. They immediately need shelter and food. The worst part is that the people were already unemployed for more than 65 days due to pandemic. Their savings have been exhausted now. It will take us two to three days to come out with a figure of the loss caused to people,” he said. State authorities maintain that the damage is about Rs one lakh crore.
Amiya Patra, Vice President of All India Agricultural Workers Union, said that embankments at several places have been damaged and farms are flooded with saline water. “Our experience from Cyclone Aila in 2009 made it clear that desalinating the farms will be daunting task,” he said. West Bengal produces 146 lakh tonnes of rice per year. The cyclone has laid waste to much of the produce from this year.
Fuad Halim, General Secretary of the People’s Relief Committee in Kolkata, told NewsClick “that it was quite scary when winds at speeds of 100 kilometres per hour passed over. Now, we are witnessing three kinds of problems. Firstly, the cyclone uprooted trees, street lights and other other poles. So, the roads are blocked. The NDRF and the fire brigade are finding it difficult to provide relief to the needy. Secondly, communication has completely collapsed, although the internet is functional, but very slow. Nobody knows about their friends and relatives. Finally, we are receiving reports that the water pipes have been damaged. So, there is an imminent chance of contamination,” explained Halim.
When asked about the damage done to healthcare services, given that a pandemic is also on the loose, Halim said that the staff at hospitals is stranded as they cannot reach home after discharging duty and that the other staff cannot reach work. “Similarly, the injured or sick persons cannot avail emergency services,” he said. Halim emphasised on the need for immediate monetary help and food stock from the Centre. “The BJP-led Centre should declare it a national disaster and release the disaster relief fund. The first lot of money should be dispatched after preliminary assessment after 2 days and the other on a later date after ascertaining the exact extent of damage,” he added.