Caught Between Corona and a Cyclone: Megastorm Mangles Coast of West Bengal

New Delhi (Sputnik): The super cyclone Amphan hit the coastal districts of India’s eastern Odisha and West Bengal states on Wednesday and Thursday (20-21 May). The hurricane-force 160-180 kilometre-per-hour winds ripped six districts of West Bengal, killing 72, but only had a minor impact on neighbouring Odisha.

The homes of around 500,000 people in the state of West Bengal in eastern India were in the path of an incoming super cyclone – Amphan. It was billed as the worst since the 1999 Super Cyclone that hit Odisha, but advance warnings about the cyclone issued by India’s meteorological department helped save thousands of lives.

In 1999, about 10,000 people died, in 2020 the death toll was a mere 72, mostly due to electrocution and falling trees.

One of the worst-hit areas was the UNESCO-declared World Heritage Site of Sunderbans – a mangrove area in the delta formed by the confluence of three rivers, two in India, the Ganges and the Brahmaputra and one in Bangladesh, the Meghna.

The super cyclone Amphan made its landfall near Sunderbans on Wednesday, 20 May, and devastated almost all the 54 inhabited islands. The villagers, whose livelihood depends on fishing and farming, had already been shifted to safer places and relief camps. But most of the temporary and semi-permanent shelters were blown away or damaged in the cyclonic wind. River embankments were also breached and saline water from sea entered the villages and drinking water sources. Standing paddy crops were also washed away by the hundreds of hectares by the gale and downpour.

“Almost all the dwellings were blown away or damaged. The villagers have already had no work during the last two months of lockdown. There are close to 5 million people living in the 54 inhabited islands, while 48 in Sundarbans are forested. Their standing paddy crops were also completely flattened by the heavy wind and rains,” Loqman Molla, a local from the South 24 Pargana district of West Bengal told Sputnik. The Sunderbans region is split into two districts: South 24 Pargana and North 24 Pargana .

“The inhabitants have no alternative livelihoods now, no place to go. Most of them are very poor people, with a hand to mouth livelihood,” explained Molla. 

Molla said roads are blocked by uprooted trees and electric poles, with all communication links breached. He said that as of now, there is no information about the loss of wildlife on the 48 forested islands in Sunderbans, which is known for its tigers, leopards, rhinoceros, wild buffaloes and several species of deer.

A source

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