Disasters & Accidents

India, Bangladesh step up relief efforts as cyclone death toll jumps to 106

New Delhi, May 22 (efe-epa).- India and Bangladesh on Friday stepped up relief and rehabilitation efforts to deal with the massive trail of destruction left behind by the powerful cyclone Amphan as the death toll from the storm climbed to 106 across the two countries.

At least 80 people have been killed by the storm in the Indian state of West Bengal, which was hit the hardest by the storm, state Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee told reporters before accompanying Prime Minister Narendra Modi for an aerial survey of the affected areas.

Later, Modi, in a televised speech, announced a 10 billion rupees ($131 million) emergency relief package for the state and said the central government would help in the rehabilitation and reconstruction efforts.

“I assure my brothers and sisters of West Bengal that the entire country stands with you in these difficult times,” said the prime minister, adding that the central government would send a team to assess the losses.

The prime minister also announced that the families of the deceased would be given financial assistance of 200,000 rupees ($2600) and the injured would be provided up to 50,000 rupees from the Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund.

Modi acknowledged that the storm had caused widespread destruction to agriculture, power, telecommunications and a large number of houses, infrastructure and businesses were damaged.

He was set to fly to the neighboring state of Odisha, which also witnessed sizable damage to property and nature due to storm winds and heavy rains, but has not reported any casualties.

In West Bengal, authorities have stepped up efforts to restore power and communications in capital Kolkata and the worst affected districts of East Medinipur, and North and South 24 Parganas.

“Things are improving, people are driving back to their homes. Restoration work is going on in full swing,” Randeep Kumar Rana, the deputy inspector general (operations) of the National Disaster Response Force, told EFE.

He said major roads had been cleared for traffic and power and telecommunications restored “to some extent” in most areas except the worst-affected South 24 Parganas district.

In neighboring Bangladesh, the number of deaths has climbed to 26 from the 16 reported on Thursday, Ayesha Akter, a spokesperson of Health Emergency Operations, told EFE.

The highest number of deaths, 13, was reported from the Jashore district bordering India, as authorities were caught unawares because of it not being a cyclone-prone area.

Nur Islam Khan, the director (operations) of Cyclone Preparedness Program, told EFE that they had not evacuated people from the district and there were no shelters there because floods and cyclones had never affected it in the past.

“I have never seen a storm like this. Even my father has not seen such a thing. It continued for almost 11 hours, causing huge damage here. Most of the raw, tin-shed houses were flattened,” Saifuzzaman Nannu, resident of a village in the Jashore district, told EFE.

“Some buildings were also damaged due to falling trees. Crops were destroyed completely.”

As per primary estimates by the Bangladesh ministry of disaster management, over 55,000 houses had been completely destroyed and around 162,000 were partially damaged in the storm, with the total losses pegged at around 1.1 billion taka ($129 million).

The Amphan was the most powerful cyclone in the Bay of Bengal – prone to these storms during April-May and October-November – since a devastating super-cyclone in 1999 killed more than 9,000 people in India’s Odisha state.

A massive operation by India and Bangladesh to evacuate nearly 3 million people before the storm made landfall on Wednesday evening – with frightening windspeeds of up to 155-165 kmph (around 100 mph) – is believed to have helped contain the loss of life. EFE-EPA

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