The aftermath of Cyclone Amphan. The aftermath of Cyclone Amphan.  

Super-cyclone Amphan wreaks havoc in India, Bangladesh

The fiercest storm this century in the Bay of Bengal slammed into the coast of eastern India and Bangladesh on Wednesday evening.

By Robin Gomes

The powerful cyclone, packed with torrential rains, tore through densely populated coastal areas of India and Bangladesh. The storm blew off roofs and whipped up waves that swallowed embankments and bridges, leaving entire villages without access to fresh water, electricity and communications.

170 kmph winds

The equivalent of a category 3 hurricane, cyclone Amphan packed sustained winds of up to 170 kilometres (105 miles) per hour with maximum gusts of 190 kph (118 mph) when it crashed ashore on May 20 evening.

More than 2 million people were evacuated from their homes in low-lying Bangladesh. A further half a million people in India’s West Bengal and Odisha states were moved from vulnerable low-lying areas to shelters.

The storm flooded vast areas but has weakened since making landfall. It has been downgraded to a cyclonic storm and will subside into a depression later.

At least 82 people were reported killed as rescue teams searched for survivors on Thursday. Most of the deaths were due to the collapse of walls, drowning and falling trees in both countries. A clearer picture of the casualties and damage to property will be possible when communications are restored.

Relief hampered by Covid-19

Officials warn that relief and repair work will be made harder by the coronavirus pandemic, which has already sapped the health care system.

The cyclone came at a time when the two countries are battling to stop the spread of the coronavirus. Some evacuees were initially reluctant to leave their homes for fear of possible infection in the packed storm shelters.

According to Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee of West Bengal, the impact of cyclone Amphan has been "worse than coronavirus".

The densely populated regions of southern West Bengal bore the brunt of the onslaught with storm surges pushing seawater 25 kilometres (15 miles) inland and flooding cities including the state capital Kolkata, formerly Calcutta.  

Large portions of the teeming metropolis, which has a population of 14.1 million, and its suburbs were flooded. Many roads and properties were littered with uprooted trees and debris.  

In Bangladesh, at least a million people were left without electricity, according to the Ministry of Power. Hundreds of villages were submerged by a tidal surge across the vast coastal region, disaster-response authorities said. About a dozen flood protection embankments have been breached, they said.

A cyclone-prone region

Cyclones in the Bay of Bengal frequently batter parts of eastern India and Bangladesh between April and December, often forcing the evacuations of tens of thousands and causing widespread damage.

Cyclone Bhola of November 1970 is regarded as the deadliest tropical cyclone ever recorded and one of the worst natural disasters in the world. At least 500,000 people are said to have lost their lives, mainly because of the storm surge estimated at 10.4m (34 feet) that flooded much of the low-lying islands of the Ganges Delta.

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21 May 2020, 14:05