Blows of the sword to a corpse: Mamata Banerjee on Cyclone Amphan

The cyclone is now moving towards Jharkhand and Assam which are on high alert



Cyclone Amphan, that blew in at 165 kmph and made landfall at 2:35 PM on May 20 over the Sagar Island, has reportedly claimed at least 10 lives in West Bengal so far. The cyclone has come in at a time when the cash-strapped state is already on its toes fighting the enormous challenge posed by the pandemic of Covid-19. Trees have fallen like ninepins, communication has been ravaged, electricity and water supply has been cut off, traffic lights have been uprooted, vehicles have been crushed, and roads have been inundated all during the wind howling and rain battering the window panes.



For those living in gated communities it was a nightmare, but the experience of the cyclone for the homeless and those in shelters is indescribable, especially during the time of Covid-19.


Morar upor khaanrar gha,” said West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee describing the approaching storm with an adage that means “blows of the sword to a corpse”.



Before reaching Calcutta, Amphan tore across not just Sagar Island where it initially made a landfall, but also devastated Kakdwip, Namkhana, Patharpratima, Gosaba and Kultali in South 24-Parganas, Basirhat, Hasnabad, Minakha, Sandeshkhali and Hingalganj in North 24-Parganas, and Nandigram and Haldia in East Midnapore.

“Ten to 12 deaths have been reported so far though the complete report is yet to come,” The Telegraph quoted Banerjee saying from the state secretariat at Nabanna around 9 PM, where she was monitoring the situation from a virtual war room. “Nandigram, Ramnagar have witnessed huge losses. South and North 24-Parganas are almost completely destroyed. Many people have died after trees fell on them,” added Banerjee. “Area after area has been devastated. Communications are disrupted. Never saw such a cyclone. If Aila (2009) was 10, this is 110. I have heard such a cyclone had hit in 1737 and thousands lost their lives,” she said. Incidentally, the secretariat building was also not spared by the cyclone that destroyed rooms 109 and 909 after shattering their windowpanes.

“We never thought the intensity would be this high…. Had we not taken the warning seriously and evacuated more than 5 lakh people, more lives could have been lost,” said Banerjee.

Because the cyclone destroyed telecommunication systems, uprooted trees and electric poles, destroyed thousands of dwellings and ravaged roads, embankments and bridges and jetties across North and South 24 Parganas and parts of East Midnapore causing extensive damage, officials said that it could be some time before they could provide an immediate assessment of the destruction that had taken place.

An official told The Telegraph that the damage in the two 24-Parganas had been immense. The official said, “Tens of thousands of kachchha houses, trees and electric poles have collapsed. At least 15 embankments were breached. Telephone connectivity is badly affected.” He added, “In Minakha alone, 5,200 houses have collapsed. Dozens of places are as badly affected or worse.” The official said National Highway 117 had become virtually inaccessible because of fallen trees between Calcutta and Diamond Harbour.

Meanwhile, Banerjee’s government is putting together a plan of action to emerge from the crisis. “I found out that every district the cyclone passed through is badly affected, especially in the matter of electricity, which will cause problems with water supply. Restoration of electricity and drinking water supply will be prioritised,” said Banerjee. She has also asked for help from the Centre, asking everyone to “forget politics and come together at this juncture”, especially seeking financial assistance from the Central government. She said, “I request the Centre to consider the devastation with a human face, not politically. Everything has been destroyed. We should come together to help those affected.”

Dhanbad and Bokaro brace for Amphan

Meanwhile, with Amphan now headed their way, the districts of Dhanbad and Bokaro in the state of Jharkhand have geared up for the onslaught of the cyclone.

In Jharkhand, Amphan is likely to cause thunderstorms accompanied with lightning and gusty winds in northeaster parts (Deoghar, Dhanbad, Dumka, Giridih, Godda, Jamtara, Pakur and Sahebganj), northwestern (Chatra, Garhwa, Koderma, Latehar, Lohardaga and Palamau), central (Bokaro, Gumla, Hazaribagh, Khunti, Ramgarh and Ranchi) and southern (Chaibasa, Jamshedpr, Simdega and Seraikela-Kharsawan) districts, though their intensity will vary between Tuesday and Thursday.

In light of this, Dhanbad District Collector, Amit Kumar instructed the block development and circle offices of all 10 blocks – Tundi, Purbi Tundi, Topchanchi, Govindpur, Nirsa, Egyarkund, Kaliasol, Baliapur, Dhanbad and Baghmara – to shift the homeless and those living in mud homes to safer government buildings like schools and community halls.

He also instructed officials to safeguard life and property, especially hospitals, due to the cyclone hitting during the Covid-19 crisis.

The Bokaro District Collector, Mukesh kumar also gave similar orders to the officers of Bermo, Chandrapura, Kasmar, Chas, Gomia, Nawadih, Chandankiyari, Jaridih and Petarwar. He said, “During cyclonic storms mud structures collapse, so we have instructed the officials to make alternative arrangements in advance and shift people at risk to safer places. As dry and weak trees often get uprooted during storms, disrupting power supply and traffic, we have asked the forest department in advance to identify such trees and remove them. We have asked authorities to arrange dry ration, medical kits and plastic sheets for any eventuality and asked the civil surgeon to remain on alert mode.”

Assam and Tripura on alert

As cyclone Amphan moves through East India, Assam Chief Secretary Kumar Sanjay Krishna has asked the Assam State Disaster Management Authority (ASDMA) to be ready with adequate responsive measures to prevent any loss of life as it approaches the western districts of Assam.



In a letter addressed to the commissioners of all four divisions of Assam, the CEO of the ASDMA and all deputy commissioners, the Chief Secretary said, “You are requested to ensure that both preventive and response systems are put on high alert to avoid any loss of life and property. The SDRF may be kept informed and their help sought whenever necessary,” adding that the ASDMA consider setting up a control room as a responsive measure to minimize the effect of the cyclone.

The Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) stated that a few districts of western Assam and Meghalaya would witness heavy to very heavy rainfall while most other places would get light to moderate rainfall.

Tripura has alerted all its eight district magistrates as Amphan is likely to move across Bangladesh towards Tripura on Wednesday.

The revenue special secretary S. Choudhury in a circular said, “There is no warning of high impact of Amphan to Tripura but there is no certainty of movement of the exact path of the cyclone as predicted by the IMD. Hence, the administration may be prepared to handle if there are any high impact of this cyclone. The IMD Agartala centre has forecast that there will be thunderstorms accompanied with lightning, the gusty wind speed reaching 40-50 kmph and heavy rainfall at isolated places in the state in all districts on Wednesday and Thursday. I am further directed to request you to be alert and accordingly take necessary preparedness measures at your level to tackle the situation.”

People start panic buying, farmers demand compensation

Knowing that the Cyclone Amphan would paralyze the states of West Bengal and Odisha for days after its passing through, people had started panic buying essential food items, especially potatoes and onions before the cyclone hit. Prices in Cuttack and Bhubaneswar in Odisha zoomed to Rs. 30 per kg from the Rs. 18 to Rs. 20 per kg they were hovering at earlier.

The cyclone has disrupted the supply chain in these eastern states as people stocked these vegetables used for daily meals, The New Indian Express reported.

Around 225 tonnes potato vanished from Kuberapuri, the major vegetable mandi at Aiginia in the city, in a single day on Sunday as panic-stricken people rushed there to procure adequate stock. “Around 4,500 packets (50 kg each) of potato were purchased by individuals from the mandi which was a rare sight. As most of them bought a single pocket, it is quite obvious that they were taking it for their household consumption,” said general secretary of Kuberapuri Alu Byabasayee Sangh Shakti Sankar Mishra. Potato supply from West Bengal on Tuesday was half the normal dispatch due to uncertainty in weather condition as the city received only 10 truckloads against 20.

In Tamil Nadu, farmers sought compensation for the crops damaged by the Amphan cyclone. Banana plantains in over 500 acres were uprooted by gales (strong winds) on Monday and Tuesday. At least one lakh banana plantains were uprooted in Sevathaiapuram, Servaikaranmadam, Peikulam, Kootampuli, Kulayankarisal, Athimarapatti and Korampallam on Monday and Tuesday. The gales also uprooted papaya trees on one acre at Servaikaranmadam.

A union councilor who visited the affected region said that the plantations were almost fully grown and nearing harvest. The farmers said their suffering was already at a peak due to the prices falling. As opposed to the usual price of Rs. 200 to Rs. 300, one cluster of banana (thar) was only being sold at Rs. 80 during the lockdown.

In Bhubaneswar, the biggest blow to the local farmers was the destruction of the betel vines, their main source of income, said Kailash Chandra Behera, Block Development Officer at Erasma to The Wire.

“The cyclone has played havoc with betel vines in Dhinkia, Gadakujang and Nuagaon panchayats, where people depend heavily on it as a source of livelihood,” said Behera, adding that around 6,000 people who had been moved to special cyclone shelters are being fed through free kitchens being run by the local sarpanches with government assistance.

While Cyclone Amphan may pass through in 2 to 3 days, the damage it is going to cause is longstanding. Coupled with the loss of jobs most vulnerable faced during the coronavirus lockdown, the trauma of losing their lives and livelihoods after the cyclone and rebuilding their homes is going to be everlasting.


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