No respite for migrants as Cyclone Amphan is set to hit WB and Odisha

Lack of resources, delay in trains and fear – all have put migrants in worry during the double crisis they face


Fighting the long journey against the coronavirus, migrants are now getting ready to brace Cyclone Amphan which is set to hit West Bengal and Odisha. Disaster management teams in the state are already working at evacuating the vulnerable population, who may be hit by a storm surge of 10 to 16 foot high waves that could swamp mud houses around the coast, dislodge communication towers and flood roads and railway tracks.

Not only this, extensive damage to plantations and crops apart from damage to large boats and ships is imminent, the Indian weather service has said. Now as the country goes through a lockdown, migrants are set to face a potential delay in trains and lack of resources.

Two crises and apathy

According to officials, around 300,000 in West Bengal and 148,486 people in Odisha have been moved to safety. However, not everyone has been so lucky. At least 63 migrant labourers from Khejuri in East Midnapore who had been living in tarpaulin tents on the border of their village since last week, remained there without proper shelter on Tuesday, a day ahead of Cyclone Amphan’s landfall, reported The Telegraph.

They used to work as masons in Chennai and had hired two private buses for Rs. 4 lakh to make their journey home starting last Wednesday. However, they were stopped by villagers and panchayat officials from entering home due to the fears of the transmission of the coronavirus.

“We erected these tents ourselves after we were banned from entering Khejuri. We were treated like pests, and have been living in tents since then. We are likely to suffer because of the cyclone. No one is helping us.” said labourer Sukhdev Pramanik.

Labourer Johor Paria said, “When we got here last Thursday, our panchayat member told us we were not welcome in the village and that there was no quarantine facility.” Most of the labourers alleged that rainwater had seeped into their crowded dwellings and several of them had moved to a nearby temple to take shelter as a canal nearby their tent had started overflowing.

Disaster management officials in the district said that they would look into the situation of the labourers. Disaster management official Mrityunjay Haldar said, “It is a rule that before the cyclone, no one can remain in a temporary construction. We will look into the situation at Khejuri immediately.”

Trains being diverted

The Railways also have had to divert a number of trains carrying migrants into eastern states. A disaster management official, SG Rai, told Reuters, “We have just about six hours left to evacuate people from their homes and we also have to maintain social distancing norms.”

Many Shramik Special trains that are getting ready to ferry migrants back to West Bengal and Odisha are set to be cancelled in light of the cylone. While some trains have already been cancelled, others have either been re-routed to bear the brunt of the “extremely severe storm”. The plying of these trains is also set to reduce in the aftermath of the disaster, reported The Times of India.

People scared of coronavirus transmission

Pankaj Anand, a member of Oxfam India told Al Jazeera, “Many of the cyclone evacuation shelters are already being used as coronavirus quarantine centres or housing migrants who have returned to their coastal communities because of lockdown. People are worried there won’t be enough space in the shelters and that they might catch coronavirus in them.”

According to the Home Ministry, extra shelters were prepared in markets and government buildings. Arrangements for social distancing and distribution of masks were also being undertaken.

However, the police are finding it difficult to send people to storm shelters too as people are scared of Covid-19 transmission. A senior police official from Kolkata said, “We have literally had to force people out of their homes, make them wear masks and put them in government buildings.”

Many in the seaside resort town of Digha feared going to the shelters, fisherman Debasis Shyamal said. “They have been home for weeks, and are afraid of going into a crowd where they could get infected,” he said.

Pradeep Jena, the Odisha state in-charge of managing disasters said that the state had over 800 centres that are used during such natural disasters, each with a holding capacity of 2,000 – 3,000 people. Out of these, 242 were being used as Covid-19 quarantine centres. He said there was no precedent for managing a cyclone in the midst of a pandemic, and the need to maintain social distance means the state would need many more shelters than usual, reported AP News.

For migrants, there seems to be no end in sight for their woes. First Covid-19 and now, Cyclone Amphan. Both these together are set to have far reaching effects on their physical, mental and emotional well-being in the times to come.


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