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Amphan's fury

Amphans fury

It was a terrifying Wednesday evening for West Bengal as Cyclone Amphan ravaged several districts of the state before losing much of its intensity and moving onto Bangladesh. At least 10-15 people were killed as the trail of the cyclone left a great mess behind. Rains had begun as the state anticipated the landfall of the super cyclone near Digah which was then touted as an Extremely Severe Cyclonic Storm; a category below super cyclone but destructive nevertheless. It headed inside, enveloping districts under its impact. While East Midnapore, North 24 and South 24 Parganas were reportedly the worst affected, Purulia, Bankura, Howrah, Kolkata, West Midnapore also braced the severe winds and lashing rain. The authorities tracked the cyclone but apart from evacuating nearly 5 lakh people from coastal areas and providing shelter, there was very little that could have been done to prevent the damage that the cyclone caused. With wind speed reaching as high as 130 kmph, lamp posts, trees, traffic lights, electric poles were uprooted. Houses with tin and tiled roofs collapsed. Window panes were shattered and doors, even though locked, were trembling. Electric transformers and power lines sparked and came down, disrupting the power supply which was otherwise cut in many areas to avoid damage. Streets were inevitably water-logged and houses in low-lying areas were inundated. While concrete houses withstood the impact, those made of mud perished; district officials reported a collapse of 5,200 mud houses in North 24 Parganas alone. Visuals posted and experiences narrated by locals describe an unprecedented storm which was the first super cyclone to form in the Bay of Bengal since 1999. The city was plunged into darkness with communication disrupted. By midnight, things were relatively calmer and the morning unveiled the destruction caused in the daylight. Uprooted trees blocked several routes as roads were filled with broken shards of glass and other materials that were riled up due to winds. Telephone lines were down while mobile towers were affected. The Indian Meteorological Department informed the next day that Amphan had weakened into a depression with rains forecasted for the next two days.

While wide-scale damage assessment would be carried out to peg the actual cost of destruction, one can take a guess how being one of the densely populated states, the cyclone would have easily impacted a million lives. Crop damage in rural Bengal besides collapsed houses would easily place farmers under distress. The relief effort hereon is going to be a challenge for the Bengal administration as the pandemic also rides on the shoulder. Providing shelter to those evacuated has already been a difficult task as social distancing has to be maintained but given how houses have been destroyed on top of livelihoods disrupted due to the lockdown, there has been a double whammy for the poor of Bengal. It is a time when migrants have also been returning from across the country. The incidence of cases may rise steeply given the havoc caused by the cyclone coupled with the prevailing crisis of Covid-19. It, therefore, occurs as a big challenge for the state authorities to provide relief on top of pandemic-specific efforts that were already been taken. In all likelihood, Bengal would require a helping hand from the Centre that can share the double incidence of misfortune upon the state. Odisha's expertise in cyclone rehabilitation would come handy at such an hour since the former has been bearing the brunt of such cyclones in recent times. Relief measures would have to be multipronged with the foremost being the humanitarian aid in the form of food, water and shelter followed by other financial and livelihood support. All this while the pandemic concerns remain high and migrant workers continue to return home, further compounding woes of the state.

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