Rescue teams yesterday searched for survivors in eastern India and Bangladesh, a day after the most powerful cyclone in more than a decade devastated coastal villages, tore down power lines and left large tracts of land under water.
The full extent of the casualties and damage to property inflicted by Super Cyclone Amphan would only be known once communications were restored, officials said.
While at least 72 people died in West Bengal state, India, and 10 in neighboring Bangladesh, mass evacuations organized by the authorities undoubtedly saved countless lives.
Most deaths were caused by trees uprooted by winds that gusted up to 185kph and a storm surge of about 5m that inundated low-lying coastal areas when the cyclone barreled in from the Bay of Bengal.
“I have never seen such a cyclone in my life. It seemed like the end of the world. All I could do was to pray... Almighty Allah saved us,” said Azgar Ali, 49, a resident of Satkhira on the Bangladesh coast.
Amphan has weakened since making landfall. Moving inland through Bangladesh, it was yesterday downgraded to a cyclonic storm by the Indian weather office and it was expected to subside into a depression.
Mohammad Asaduzzaman, a senior police official in Satkhira, described the destruction Amphan left in its wake.
“Devastation is huge. Many villages are flooded. It tore off tin roofs, snapped power lines and uprooted trees,” he said.
Concern was growing over flooding in the Sundarbans, an ecologically fragile region straddling the Indian-Bangladesh border, best known for thick mangrove forests and its tiger reserve.
“The tidal surge submerged some part of the forest,” said Belayet Hossain, a forest official in Bangladesh. “We have seen trees uprooted, the tin roofs of the guard towers blown off.”
On the Indian side, a village official said that embankments surrounding a low-lying island, where about 5,000 people live, had been washed away and he had been unable to contact authorities for help.
“We have not been able inform them about anything since last night,” Sanjib Sagar said.
Authorities in both nations managed to evacuate more than 3 million people, moving them to storm shelters before Amphan struck, but the evacuation effort was focused on communities that lay directly in the cyclone’s path, leaving villages on the flanks still vulnerable.
TV images showed upturned boats on the shore, people wading through knee-deep water and buses crashed into each other.
The airport in Kolkata, West Bengal’s state capital, lay under water and several neighborhoods in the city of 14 million people have had no electricity since the storm struck, residents said.
Pradip Kumar Dalui, an official in West Bengal’s South 24 Parganas area, said that storm waters breached river embankments in several places, flooding more then half a dozen villages that were home to more than 100,000 people.
“Many mud houses have been destroyed because of the wind or fallen trees,” Dalui said by telephone.
Electricity lines and telephone connections were down in many places, but so far no deaths had been reported in the area, he said.
The cyclone came at a time when the two nations are battling the COVID-19 pandemic and some evacuees were initially reluctant to leave their homes for fear of possible infection in the packed storm shelters.
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