‘Cyclone Amphan’ Tears Through Bengal, Amid the Pandemic
In the evening of May 20, Odisha, Bengal and Bangladesh witnessed the rage of nature in the form of Cyclone Amphan, as the wind blow at the speed of 155 to 165 kmph claiming 87 lives in Bengal along the Bay of Bengal coast and left many injured and homeless before calming down and moving towards north. More than 2 lakh people are homeless and now are living in different relief camps.
The waves of Bay of Bengal, that touched the shores of Sunderbans in South Bengal witnessed the waves are 3-4 meters higher than usual, leading to the inundation of salt water in large parts of the South 24 Parganas district destroying the agriculture and livelihood for more than a year.
Though authorities claimed to have evacuated more than 200,000 people ahead of the cyclone to the safe shelters, that also created complications as most of the shelters, like schools, panchayat buildings were already being used as COVID-19 quarantine centers, leaving no option but to stay with basic mask and maintaining whatever possible, the basic social distancing.
By the time the cyclone reached Kolkata the speed went down to around 130 kmph but was strong enough to uproot more than 5000 trees within the city only and destroying many vulnerable buildings, followed by downpour. The storm also knocked out transformer stations setting off explosions across Kolkata. At least 19 people were killed in the city, many of them electrocuted after venturing into stagnant water.
The fallen trees have destroyed the overhead wiring system leading the power failure, phone connectivity and Internet disturbance leaving 70% of the city directly effected for more than a week or so, leading to chaos and confusion between the government, administration and common people.
In inability to deal with the crisis for following days by the government, bought Indian Army to the ground to clean the uprooted trees leading to the restoration of electricity, phone and internet connectivity.
In a recent Media briefing Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said, “Around six crore people have been directly affected by Cyclone Amphan and 10 crore indirectly. More than 60 per cent of the state’s population has been affected. Around 90 per cent of restoration works of electricity has been done and only 10 per cent is remaining”. Chief Minister also lauded the efforts of government officials in evacuating over 8 lakh people before the landfall of the cyclone on May 20. There could have been nearly six lakh casualties otherwise, she said.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited the affected areas of West Bengal and Odisha and announced a relief fund of 1000 crore for West Bengal and 500 crore for Odisha.
Announcing the 1000 crore-relief package for Bengal, Prime Minister Modi assured the people full assistance in the relief measures. He also praised the efforts of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee saying, “Under the leadership of CM Banerjee, West Bengal is doing its bit in fighting the crisis situation caused by cyclone Amphan. Dealing with COVID-19 requires social distancing whereas battling the Amphan cyclone requires people to move to safer areas”.
Prime Minister also added, “despite these contradictions, West Bengal under the leadership of Mamata ji is fighting well. We are with them in these adverse times. I assure my brothers and sisters of West Bengal that the entire country stands with you in these difficult times. All aspects relating to rehabilitation, reconstruction will be addressed. We all want West Bengal to move ahead. Centre will always stand with West Bengal in these testing times”.
By then the government of West Bengal has moved relief material in the affected areas in the form of food, water and tarpaulin for makeshift shelters.
If we observe the trends in climate change, it is clearly visible that cyclones have become more severe and frequent in this part of the country. Cyclone Amphan has come at a time when Sunderbans is still recovering from Cyclone Bulbul, which hit the region few months back in November. Though its effect was significantly reduced by the World’s largest mangrove forest in Sunderbans, which is also the world’s largest delta. But has affected the land and the people of the area.
Experts are of the view that one of the reason behind the strengthening of Cyclone Amphan at the world record speed, which also made it the strongest cyclone in the Bay of Bengal since 1982, from when meteorologists started keeping regular records of the trends in sea surface temperature. It is recorded that in its origin, the cyclone started with wind speed 215 to 225 kmph and going up to to 245 kmph before hitting the land surface. Though it started loosing its intensity but still officially it has been described as ‘extreme severe cyclone’.
The repeated forecasts and detailed tracking of the cyclone by meteorological departments has no doubt helped in limiting the destruction by the cyclone. As almost all the fishing boats in Bay of Bengal were back at port according to the West Bengal fisheries department and Indian Coast Guard. Shifting of people to safe shelter has no doubt helped in saving thousands of life. But the Cyclone has given enough lesson for governments to learn in order to deal with future crisis.
By Jaydeep Das Gupta from Kolkata