Richa Sayantika, Calcutta /Sumi Khan,Dhaka
Atleast 88 people have died when Cyclone Amphan tore through coastal areas of West Bengal and neighbouring Bangladesh on Wrdnesday.
72 deaths were reported by West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee , while authorities in Bangladesh confirmed by authorities in Bangladesh.
The cyclone struck the state of West Bengal as none in recent memory, ravaging villages, uprooting power lines, and leaving large tracts of land under water.
Mass evacuations before Cyclone Amphan hit the coast surely saved thousands of lives, but the full extent of the casualties and damage to property would only be known once communications were restored, officials said.
West Bengal, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said on Thursday that at least 72 people had perished – most of them either electrocuted or killed by trees uprooted by winds that peaked up to 185 km per hour .
But she was reacting on first reports from districts and could not provide area-wise breakup.
When the cyclone barrelled in from the Bay of Bengal on Wednesday the storm surge of around five metres resulted in flooding across the low-lying coastal areas.
The Bengal coastline was littered with upturned boats on the shore, people wading through knee-deep water and buses and cars crashed into each other. Poor villagers were seen trying to lift fallen electricity poles, fishermen hauled their boats out of a choppy sea, and uprooted trees lay strewn across the countryside.
Designated a super cyclone, Amphan has weakened since making landfall. Moving inland through Bangladesh, it was downgraded to a cyclonic storm on Thursday by the Indian weather office. And the storm was expected to subside into a depression later.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi posted a tweet expressing concern over the people suffering in West Bengal.
“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,” he said.
Concern was growing over flooding in the Sundarbans, an ecologically-fragile region straddling the Indian-Bangladesh border, best known for thick mangrove forests and its tiger reserve.
“The tidal surge submerged some part of the forest,” said Belayet Hossain, a forest official on the Bangladesh side of the forest. “We have seen trees uprooted, the tin-roofs of the guard towers blown off,” he said.
Over on the Indian side of the Sundarbans, a village official said embankments surrounding a low-lying island, where some 5,000 people live, had been washed away, and he had been unable to contact authorities for help.
“We have not been able inform them about anything since last night, the official, Sanjib Sagar, told Reuters.
Authorities in both countries managed to evacuate more than three million people, moving them to storm shelters before Amphan struck. But the evacuation effort was focused on communities that lay directly in the cyclone’s path, leaving villages on the flanks still vulnerable.
The airport in Kolkata, West Bengal’s state capital, lay under water and several neighbourhoods in the city of 14 million people have had no electricity since the storm struck, according to residents.
After the storm passed people were trying to retrieve articles from the rubble of their shops in the city.
Pradip Kumar Dalui, an official in the state’s South 24 Parganas area, said that storm waters breached river embankments in several places, flooding over half a dozen villages, that were home for more than 100,000 people.
Electricity lines and phone connections were down in many places, as were internet and cable TV connections.
The cyclone came at a time when the two countries are battling to stop the spread of the coronavirus, and some evacuees were initially reluctant to leave their homes for fear of possible infection in the packed storm shelters.
At least 16 people were killed as Amphan battered the coastal areas of Bangladesh leaving a trail of destruction before weakening gradually, authorities said.
Health Emergency Operations control room confirmed the death of 10 people – five in Jashore, two each in Bhola, Pirojpur and Patuakhali districts and one each in Barishal, Barguna, Sathkhira, Jhenaidah and Chattogram.
The victims include a Red Crescent volunteer Syed Shah Alam, who drowned after his boat capsized due to strong winds in Kalapara area of Patukhali.
Police Superintendent of Patuakhali, Mohammad Mainul Hasan, said that they found the body of Alam, 54. A five-year old boy also died in the district as a tree fell over him, said the Police Super.
District police intelligence chief Moshiur Rahman said two women died being hit by falling trees in Chogacha area of Jessore.
Zakir Hossain, the police intelligence chief of Bhola district said that a 75-year old man died being hit by a tree in South Aicha area of the district while a man in his 30s drowned after the capsize of boat.
Police Super of Pirjpur, Hayatul Islam Khan, confirmed the death of a man in the district while Mohammad Iltutmish, an additional police super of Satkhira confirmed the death of women.
Ayesha Akter, a spokesperson of Health Emergency Operations control room, confirmed two more deaths, respectively in Jhenaidah and Chattogram.
Bangladesh Meteorological Department said the cyclone completed crossing Bangladesh coast at night and was staying over Jhenaidah in the morning. It was moving towards Rajshahi and Pabna region after being weakened gradually.
Maritime ports Mongla and Payra had been advised to lower the great danger signal 10 and hoist local cautionary signal three.
Maritime ports Chattogram and Cox’s Bazar were also advised to hoist local cautionary signal three.
Authorities of different government department said they were still assessing the damage in the immediate aftermath of the disaster.
‘We had nearly 1.5 crore clients without power until 5:00am. We are trying to restore the supply. But polls were collapsed in many areas and cables were torn apart,’ said Major General (retd) Moin Uiddin, the chairman of Bangladesh Rural Electrification Board.
Bangladesh Water Development Board said the cyclone had damaged embankments in many areas causing flood.
‘We are yet to get the information from all districts. So far we found 1.3km embankment was damaged in 12 spots at Sathkira district and 6.4km embankment was damaged in Bagerhat district,’ said Abu Bakar Siddik, the caretaker engineer of Bangladesh Water Development Board.
The Amphan is touted to be the most powerful cyclone in the Bay of Bengal since a devastating super-cyclone in 1999 killed more than 9,000 people in Odisha.