The Print – ‘Never seen such devastation before’: CM Mamata Banerjee says Amphan has completely destroyed Bengal

Cyclone Amphan causes massive destruction across at least 7 districts. Twelve dead, damage to public property pegged at over Rs 1 lakh crore. CM Mamata has urged Modi government for help.

Madhuparna Das

Kolkata – West Bengal – India, 21 May 2020. Cyclone Amphan Wednesday ravaged several parts of West Bengal, including capital Kolkata, killing at least 12 people. Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said she had never seen in her lifetime this level of devastation as she requested the Narendra Modi government at the Centre for “help”.

In a live video session hours after the cyclone made landfall and affected at least seven districts, the CM said she was “shocked” to see such a massive disaster. She stressed the cyclone’s “unexpected scale” several times during the session.

Banerjee said 99 per cent of South 24 Parganas district has been wiped out, adding several structures of the newly-constructed secretariat building have been damaged too. Among the 10-12 killed was a 13-year-old girl, said the CM.

However, the casualty figure will be much higher in districts, especially in the coastal areas, said a senior official, who didn’t wish to be named, adding that details about the loss of lives are being ascertained. The communication channels were lost and information was not reaching the state secretariat, the official added.

The extent of damage, particularly the loss of public property, is over Rs 1 lakh crore, Banerjee said at the state secretariat, Nabanna. “I would urge the Centre to help us out and refrain from doing politics.

We were suffering from an economic meltdown following the outbreak, and somehow dealing with the reverse migration. With the cyclone, the state is now completely destroyed.”

She camped at Nabanna Wednesday night, as did all senior officials. Banerjee said many more people would have lost their lives had the government not evacuated nearly 5 lakh people in the last two days. She requested the villagers not to leave the relief camps now.

The government had earlier opened a control room with two dedicated numbers to help people “fight Amphan”.

‘Damage worse than coronavirus crisis’

The situation in West Bengal is “grim” and Cyclone Amphan has caused “unthinkable damage” across some south Bengal districts including Kolkata, the CM said. “It is a devastation I have not seen in my life. Nearly 99 per cent of South 24 Parganas, one of the districts where the cyclone hit, has been wiped out. The damage to the state is worse than that it suffered due to coronavirus,” she said.

“Communication across districts has been cut-off. Roads and bridges have been destroyed. Administration needs to reach those places. However, no communication is possible now. It will take at least 4 to 5 days for the government to understand the extent of damage and estimate the cost,” said Banerjee.

“We repaired the embankments and the bridges in South and North 24 Parganas districts just six months back, after Cyclone Bulbul hit us. Now we have to rebuild again. This time, the cyclone did not touch Odisha, and our Bangla is bearing the brunt,” she said.

Kolkata battered

Cyclone Amphan, which was initially classified as a ‘super’ cyclone but downgraded to ‘extremely serious’ later, destroyed several parts of West Bengal, with the state capital among the worst hit.

At least 1,000-odd trees got uprooted across different thoroughfares and in localities, causing immense damage. At least two people have been confirmed dead, a wall collapsed on a woman and her son in south Kolkata. In Howrah, a 13-year-old girl died after a portion of a house fell on her. A middle aged woman was killed in North 24 Parganas as a flying object hit her fatally.

Large parts of the city are still in dark as many transformers exploded during the storm surge. Most of Kolkata remains heavily inundated as the Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC) struggles to pump the water out.

“We have all our units working. There are at least 36 teams present in KMC, while all boroughs have separate teams. It is a damage that looks manageable now. (But) It will take time,” said Deputy Mayor Atin Ghosh.

Around early evening Wednesday, the city witnessed wind speeds of close to 130 kmph, which later went down to 105 kmph. Heavy-to-very-heavy rainfall led to waterlogging across many localities, said a senior official of the meteorological department.

Power outages too were reported from across the city.

According to weather experts, this is one of the major cyclonic storms to have passed through Kolkata in decades. The last time the city was majorly affected by a cyclone was when it was hit by the “the tail” of Aila in 2009. During last year’s Cyclone Bulbul, the city escaped any major damage.

‘Never seen such devastation before’: CM Mamata says Amphan has completely destroyed Bengal