Cyclone Amphan leaves trail of destruction across West Bengal

The Indian city Kolkata witnessed the worst cyclone in more than a decade on May 21. Amphan, originated in the Bay of Bengal and became the most intense cyclone over this region occurring in this century, according to The Weather Channel. It has already killed more than 80 people in the Indian state of West Bengal.

People who witnessed Amphan’s fury, recalled their memories of the ferocious storm that this state has witnessed over years. 22-year-old Baishali described it as the “dance of evil”. While narrating her experience of this cyclone , she said, “I felt like I won’t survive this. The wind broke through the roof of my house bringing rainwater like a waterfall and in a minute, the whole house was waterlogged.”

Forecasted by India’s Meteorological Department as an “extremely intense cyclone” with wind speeds up to 195km/h to 121mph, Amphan has crippled the city. The storm arrived with a heavy rainfall on Wednesday afternoon that drowned the city and pushed it into darkness, with no power supply for over five days and counting.

Aftermath of Cyclone Amphan.
Credit: Baishali

Baishali, who aspires to be a doctor, was so scared that she held on to her mother during the hours of wrecking. “It was like that someone was barging on the doors and breaking the window glasses. When I stepped out of the house after the storm, everything was gone. Just gone! The century-old Banyan tree, around which I have grown up playing, was brutally uprooted. Everything has changed,” said Baishali.

Baishali’s family also tried to reach out to their relatives, who live in Sunderbans area but could not, as all the phone networks went down as the storm passed.

Amphan made its landfall in Sunderbans, Asia’s biggest mangrove forest, with wind speed rising up to 185 kmph moving towards north-east direction, crushing the densely populated areas like Baruipur, Canning, Bhangar, Kolkata, New Town, Basirhat before entering Bangladesh.

According to the MeT department, Amphan is the strongest tropical cyclone that originated from the Bay of Bengal since the 1999 Odisha cyclone. The department had warned of extensive damage due to the cyclone and had issued an “orange message” for West Bengal on Monday.

While for Baishali, Amphan became the first-ever experience of such destruction, for Adwaita Bhattacharya, it was a remembrance of many disasters he has experienced.

“It was even worse than the tsunami in Chennai in 2004. The wind was so intense that one could be swayed by it. Our glass windows, which are framed with aluminium, were shaking like someone was pulling it hard from outside. The wind was awfully powerful, so much so that it brought shattered glass pieces with it,” Bhattacharya described.

Though the Met department predicted the super cyclone to hit around 8 pm; it came about early by 4pm in the evening and left the city in tatters by the time it departed. From uprooting the old trees to electric poles to traffic lights, the super cyclone showed no mercy over the city.

Surbhi Pandey, who lives in New Town area, took a walk after the first phase of Amphan and described the destruction the cyclone had caused. “Every shop aligned to the main road was gone like they never existed,” she said.

Uprooted trees in Kolkata.
Photo shared by: Surbhi Pandey

Surbhi, who hails from Bihar, is living in Kolkata for the past three years. She said, “I could not believe my eyes that a storm could shake the buildings like that. The city is completely destroyed and the storm has changed the cheerful face of it.”

Surbhi shared that her sister’s car washer has left Gurgaon, Haryana after he was informed that his mother was missing since the cyclone passed. SSZee Media could not confirm the information since neither the phone nor the details of the car washer were available.

As the storm made its way into the city disconnecting it from the rest of the country, millions of people are living without power and proper water since Wednesday. Amphan wreaked havoc in as many as 14 districts, especially South 24 Parganas, North 24 Parganas, Kolkata, and East Medinipur.

Manoj Kumar, a resident of Madhyamgram which comes under North 24-Parganas, said, “There is no power and running water since Wednesday. It is difficult to survive like this. I can’t even listen to the news as the cable network system has totally collapsed.”

Tapas Kumar Guha, a cable network operator from that area, informed that the electric wires across the district have been destroyed due to the storm and so is his cable network system.

 “Until and unless the electrical wires are restored, we can’t do anything,” said Guha, who has suffered huge loss that he estimated to almost Rs 1 lakh.

Mamik, a first-year student from Delhi University, is missing out on his online classes. He said, “I got stuck at home due to Covid lockdown and now because of Amphan, I can’t attend my online classes as the internet is not working at all. If this continues then I am not sure how I am going to catch up with studies as exams are approaching as well.”

Ashmad, a resident of Bardhawan city located 103 km away from Kolkata, had a scary Wednesday evening story to share. He said, “I was returning home from work and suddenly I couldn’t move my bicycle because of the strong wind. I started walking but it was difficult to walk because the storm was too intense. So, I took shelter near a shop. I saw the trees getting uprooted and the wind ruining everything coming in its way. It was scary and I somehow made it out alive.”

FROM THE HOSPITAL

Not everyone was as lucky as Ashmad with the super cyclone taking more than 80 lives so far and has left many injured. Prince, who is a resident doctor at Jawaharlal Nehru Hospital in Nadiya district, shared his side of the story. “I have never experienced anything like this. It was scary and painful as I received a number of patients with severe injuries the very next day,” he said.

Dr. Prince informed that since the ambulance services were unavailable on Wednesday night, patients with severe injuries came the following morning. Around 60-68 patients visited the hospital on Thursday morning. He said, “In my six hours of duty, around 8-11 people were brought dead to the hospital and most of them had died under either trees or tin roofs. You can imagine how deadly the cyclone was as every patient came with severe injuries like collar bone & shoulder bone fractures and head injuries caused by the falling of trees or electrical poles.”

Nadiya, 122 km away from Kolkata, shares its border with Bangladesh to the east and is one of the worst-affected areas. Due to its huge rural population, the district has suffered a huge loss of life and property as Cyclone Amphan completely destroyed the mud houses and paddy fields.

Apart for the general public in and around the district, the government-appointed rescue workers also visited the hospital as they got injured while carrying out the restoration work. One of the employees of West Bengal State Electricity Board was brought with a serious head injury on Saturday, according to a hospital official.

“Somehow many of them survived critical injuries and are in a stable state. But many others did not. Right now around 70-80 people are hospitalised in critical condition in our hospital alone,” added Dr. Prince.

ACTIONS OF GOVERNMENT

Though exact details of the damage are yet to be confirmed by the state government, looking at the devastating picture drawn by Cyclone Amphan, Chief Minister of West Bengal, Mamata Banerjee expressed, “never seen such devastation.”

As soon as the MeT department had alerted the government of the cyclone, around three lakh people were evacuated from the coastal areas, as informed by the CM.

Initially, the West Bengal government announced for Rs 1 lakh each for the families of those who died in the cyclone and Rs 50,000 for the injured.

On May 22, the Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi, undertook an aerial survey with Mamata Banerjee of the areas damaged by Cyclone Amphan. Later in the evening, he announced Rs 1,000 crore for “advance interim assistance” for West Bengal.

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