Paritosh Kanti Paul and Kamran Reza Chowdhury: Cyclone Amphan killed dozens of people and devastated parts of India’s West Bengal state and neighboring Bangladesh, authorities on both sides of the border said Thursday, as the region began to recover from the storm.
Amphan, which Bangladesh’s national weather service called “the strongest cyclone in the 21st century over the Bay of Bengal,” leveled tens of thousands of homes, destroyed roads, and downed utility lines before churning away from the region Thursday morning, officials said.
Kolkata, the capital of West Bengal with a population of more than 14 million people, lay in the cyclone’s path as it made landfall along the India-Bangladesh frontier on Wednesday night.
“I have never seen such devastation,” West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee told a news conference in Kolkata as she reported that at least 72 people in her state were killed during the storm.
The state’s meteorological office said Amphan generated maximum wind speeds of 185 kph (115 mph) while the average speed was between 155 kph (96 mph) and 165 kph (102 mph). The wind speed was 133 kph (82 mph) when it struck Kolkata on Wednesday evening.
“Chabbish Pargona is the worst affected district in West Bengal. The district has been devastated,” Banerjee said, adding, “the communication link is severed in many places and electricity has not been restored.”
She said her state government needed time to determine the scale of the damage.
17 districts hit in Bangladesh
Across the border in Bangladesh, officials reported that as many as 16 people were killed, including six in an inland district that had not expected to be hit by the cyclone. The storm caused an estimated U.S. $130 million in damage in 17 southern and southwestern districts, officials said.
The Bangladeshi health ministry said that 12 people were killed by Amphan – three in Pirojpur, two in Patuakhali, two in Bhola, two in Jashore, one in Jhenaidah, one in Satkhira and one in Chittagong.
However, the deputy commissioner of Jashore, an inland district, said the death toll was higher.
“We are updating the figures of the death toll from Cyclone Amphan. So far we have confirmation that six people – three men, two women and one girl age 14 – died when a tree fell on them,” Mohammad Shafiul Arif told BenarNews. “We have sent the updated figure to the Ministry of Disaster Management and Relief for inclusion in the official list.”
In the 17 districts, the storm destroyed nearly 56,000 houses and damaged more than 162,000 others, said Dr. Aminur Rahman, the state minister for disaster management. Worst hit were the districts of Satkhira, Khulna, Bagerhat and Patuakhali.
“Nearly 11,000 km (6,800 miles) of paved roads have been damaged while 150 km (93 miles) of embankment got washed away. Electricity and mobile phone networks have yet to be restored in many places and innumerable trees were uprooted,” Rahman told BenarNews.
A resident of Satkhira, a coastal distict, described what he had lived through overnight.
“I have never seen such a cyclone in my life. It seemed like the end of the world,” Azgar Ali, 49, told Reuters news service. “All I could do was to pray … Almighty Allah saved us.”
Meanwhile, Save the Children, a Britain-based NGO, said it had received reports that more than 5 million people were left without power in Bangladesh, while the Associated Press set the number at 10 million.
“Our biggest responsibility now is making sure that displaced children and their families can return to their homes, while complying with social distancing guidelines to protect people from COVID-19,” said Mostak Hussain, the NGO’s humanitarian director in Bangladesh said in a news release.
“Save the Children is responding to the needs of the people in the most affected areas, supporting the Bangladesh government’s relief efforts,” he said.
As Amphan headed toward the region, Bangladeshi authorities moved 2.4 million people to 14,600 costal emergency centers.
The cyclone crossed into Bangladesh around 7 p.m. Wednesday after first striking the Kolkata area. It later shifted direction, hitting landlocked districts in the southwestern and northwestern regions.
“You see, six people died in landlocked Jashore where the cyclone was not supposed to hit. There was no cyclone shelter in Jashore as it is not a coastal district,” Abdul Latif, a disaster management consultant working with the government, told BenarNews.
“People in the district are not used to cyclones,” he said, pointing out that the victims were struck by a falling tree.
In addition, farmers in the northwestern Rajshahi region suffered huge crop losses from the storm because they had not prepared for Amphan, he said.
Rohingya survive Amphan
Officials also blamed the cyclone for damage in Cox’s Bazar, a southeastern district that is home to camps housing close to 1 million Rohingya refugees.
“The cyclone Amphan damaged more than 100 houses for the Rohingya refugees at camps in Ukhia, rendering nearly 400 people homeless. They have been staying with relatives,” said Mohammed Sajjad Hossain, a spokesman in Cox’s Bazar for U.N. refugee agency UNHCR.
“In addition, more than 100 houses at other camps have been damaged. Repair of the houses has begun and the Rohingya have been provided with humanitarian assistance,” he told BenarNews.
Bhashan Char, an island in the Bay of Bengal that recently became home to about 300 of the stateless refugees from Myanmar, survived without damage to structures built by the government to house thousands of the refugees, said Rahman, the state minister for disaster management.
“This island is highly protected,” he told BenarNews.
Despite the positive report, Human Rights Watch (HRW) issued a statement calling on the Bangladesh government to transfer the Rohingya from Bhashan Char to the Cox’s Bazar camps.
“The Bangladesh government properly brought Rohingya refugees stranded at sea ashore, but holding them on a tiny island during a cyclone is dangerous and inhumane,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Our fear that Bhashan Char would become a ‘floating detention center’ has now turned into a fear of a submerged one.”
HRW said it had interviewed 25 Rohingya, including some who are on the island and family members in Cox’s Bazar. Those on the island said they were being confined in prison-like conditions without freedom of movement or adequate access to food, water, or medical care and some alleged they were beaten by security forces, according to the global rights watchdog.
“The cyclone marks the beginning of monsoon season, adding further dangers for refugees who spent months on a crowded boat, starving and floating at sea, and now have been detained and beaten on Bhashan Char,” Adams said.
Shahriar Alam, the Bangladesh deputy foreign affairs minister, responded by calling the HRW allegations “baseless and ill-motivated,” Agence France-Presse reported. In addition, a navy spokesman said the Rohingya were being “treated very well.”