Disasters & Accidents

Powerful cyclone claims 88 lives, wreaks havoc in India, Bangladesh

(Update 1: updates death toll, adds details)

By Sarwar Kashani and Azad Majumder

New Delhi/Dhaka, May 21 (efe-epa).- A powerful cyclone that tore through the coastal areas of India and Bangladesh has left at least 88 people dead and rendered millions homeless in one of the world’s most populous regions, officials said on Thursday.

The authorities in the two countries launched a massive rescue operation to search for survivors and bring relief to the affected people in the areas worst hit by the most powerful cyclone in over a decade.

At least 72 people have died in the eastern Indian state of West Bengal due to the cyclone Amphan, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee told reporters.

She said she had never seen “such a disaster before” as the cyclone flattened houses and flooded cities and villages of the state that borders Bangladesh.

Kolkata, the state capital, bore much of the brunt of the storm with 15 deaths and many of its 14 million residents being left without electricity and communications since Wednesday afternoon.

However, many lives were saved by mass evacuations organized by the authorities in the two countries before Amphan struck.

Over three million people who lived in areas that lay directly in its path were evacuated to shelters from their vulnerable homes on Monday and Tuesday.

The cyclone caused a storm surge of around five meters that inundated low-lying coastal areas when it barreled in from the Bay of Bengal on Wednesday, triggering heavy rains and high-velocity winds with speeds of up to 185 kmph (115 mph).

By Thursday morning, it weakened into a cyclonic storm and declined further into a depression by the evening after moving north-northeastwards at a speed of 27 kmph, the Indian Meteorological Department said.

However, the structural damage it caused along its path was widespread as authorities scrambled to mount a massive relief operation amid a raging coronavirus outbreak that has further complicated an already mammoth task.

Officials said raging winds and rain destroyed thousands of mud houses in the state of West Bengal.

Many Kolkata residents posted dramatic visuals on social media sites that showed uprooted trees, waterlogged streets turning into riverways, lamp posts upside down and power lines cut and dangling overhead.

Others showed parts of buildings caving in, vehicles crushed under the fallen trees, and broken jetties adrift on swollen rivers.

Some pictures circulated online showed that the Kolkata airport was flooded and many of its structures were damaged with inundated tarmac, runways, and hangars.

The state-run carrier Air India said its two planes parked at the airport were not damaged although “there is some damage to the hangar”.

“A small private aircraft which was parked in the hangar has been damaged,” Air India chief Rajiv Bansal told reporters in New Delhi.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the disaster response teams were working in the cyclone-affected areas and top officials were closely monitoring the situation and working in close coordination with the West Bengal government.

“No stone will be left unturned in helping the affected,” Modi tweeted.

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