Cyclone Amphan kills over 90 and devastates wide areas of eastern India and Bangladesh

Cyclone Amphan kills over 90 and devastates wide areas of eastern India and Bangladesh

Cyclone Amphan devastated coastal areas of the eastern Indian states  of Odisha and West Bengal on Wednesday afternoon, and neighbouring  Bangladesh on Thursday morning. Described as a “super cyclonic storm,”  Amphan reached wind speeds of 185 kilometres per hour, tearing down  powerlines, flooding low-lying areas and taking the lives of over 90  people—76 and 15 in India and Bangladesh respectively.

The  Sundarbans mangroves forest region, a 140-hectare UNESCO world heritage  site that is home to four million people, bore the brunt of the cyclone  on Wednesday afternoon. The region lies on the delta of the Ganges,  Brahmaputra and Meghna rivers on the Bay of Bengal. Cyclone Amphan then  moved north and north-eastwards, hitting Kolkata, the West Bengal  capital, and then Bangladesh on Thursday.

Working people and the  rural poor in eastern India and Bangladesh have been worst hit by the  disaster, which comes on top of the deadly impact of the coronavirus,  which has already claimed more than 3,800 lives in the two countries.

While  an estimated total of more than three million people have been  evacuated from cyclone affected areas in both countries, their  relocation into overcrowded shelters places them in real danger of  contracting the highly infectious virus.

West Bengal Chief  Minister Mamata Banerjee said that over 70 people had been killed by  Cyclone Amphan and announced a meagre compensation package of 250,000  rupees ($US3,300) for the families of victims.

The worst hit areas  in West Bengal included South and North 24 Parganas and East Midnapore.  The state’s capital Kolkata, which has a population of 15 million, was  also battered by the storm.

In a press briefing, West Bengal  officials declared that it was “impossible to provide an immediate  assessment of the damage,” but added: “Amphan mauled telecommunication  systems, uprooted trees and electric poles, destroyed thousands of  dwellings, and ravaged roads, bridges and embankments and jetties across  North and South 24-Parganas and parts of East Midnapore…

“At  least 15 embankments were breached. Telephone connectivity is badly  affected… In Minakha alone, 5,200 houses have collapsed. Dozens of  places are as badly affected or worse… National Highway 117 had become  virtually inaccessible because of fallen trees between Kolkata and  Diamond Harbour.”

Kolkata residents told the BBC that it was the  worst storm they had experienced in decades and described flooded homes,  electricity transformers exploding and extensive power outages.

Krishnachandrapur High School headmaster Chandan Maity told Telegraphindia that Amphan was “the worst cyclone in living memory” and that  dangerously high winds had prevented residents from moving to safety. A  disaster management official told the publication that over 50,000 mud  and brick homes had been severely or permanently damaged in the  Sundarbans region. “Almost all tin roofs have been blown away” and most  cellphone networks were down, he said.

Chief Minister Banerjee,  fearful of the political consequences of the catastrophic impact of the  cyclone and rising popular anger over the failure of Indian authorities  to protect the population from COVID-19 infections, told the media that  the cyclone was “more worrying” than the coronavirus.

“We don’t  know how to handle it,” Banerjee said. “Almost everything is destroyed  in the coastal villages of the state… area after area has been  devastated [and] communications are disrupted. We’ve never seen such a  cyclone.”

In Bangladesh, the cyclone struck seven low-lying areas  in the country’s south-west including Jashore, Bhola, Barguna,  Patuakhali and Pirojpur with high winds and torrential rains. Powerful  tidal waves, some as high as 12 feet (3.7 metres), destroyed embankments  (levees), inundating villages and towns and cutting electricity  supplies to more than five million people.

Ahmadul Kabir, director  of Bangladesh’s Cyclone Preparedness Programme, said that around 2.4  million people from 19 coastal districts had been relocated to over  14,600 schools and other buildings that were being used as temporary  storm shelters. Hundreds of Rohingya refugees, living in overcrowded and  substandard accommodation in Cox’s Bazar, were reported to have been  moved to shelters. About one million refugees live at 34 camps in the  Cox’s Bazar district.

Several embankments or levees in Barguna and  other districts were breached resulting in crops and fish farms being  washed away. Sanjib Sagar, a resident of Ghoramara Island in the  Sundarbans, told Reuters that many houses have been damaged. Another  villager Babul Mondal, 35, who lived on the edge of the Sundarbans said  that the houses “look like they have been run over by a bulldozer.”

Enamur Rahman, minister for disaster management and relief, arrogantly told the New Nation that: “Bangladesh is viewed as ‘a role model’ when it comes to calamity  management” and that millions had been relocated to over 12,000 cyclone  shelters in the coastal regions.

Notwithstanding these claims,  the Bangladeshi government’s overcrowded temporary cyclone shelters  place working people and the rural poor in real danger of contracting  COVID-19.

While the cyclone is an environmental disaster, its  impact on the lives and livelihood of millions of people in India and  Bangladesh has been worsened by the callous refusal of the ruling elites  to provide whatever is necessary to protect working people and the  rural poor.

Cyclones, torrential rains and floods are regular  events throughout South Asia. Despite this, successive governments of  every political colouration in the region have refused to allocate the  desperately needed resources to build infrastructure that would mitigate  the impact of environmental catastrophes, and health disasters such as  COVID-19, on ordinary people.

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