16 dead as Cyclone Amphan batters Bangladesh, India

  • News Desk bdnews24.com
    Published: 2020-05-21 01:56:34 BdST

Cyclone Amphan has carved a merciless path of destruction through Bangladesh and eastern India, killing at least 16 people, destroying thousands of homes and raising fears that the coronavirus could spread in crowded shelters.

In Bangladesh, at least six people were reported dead until Wednesday evening in Patuakhali, Satkhira, Pirojpur, Bhola and Barguna as Cyclone Amphan, packing winds gusting up to 160kph bore down on the coastal districts, local administration and representatives said.

Among the confirmed fatalities reported, a woman died in Satkhira when ferocious winds brought a tree crushing down on her, according to Deputy Commissioner SM Mostafa Kamal. Fierce wind gusts also caused walls to collapse while a boat of volunteers sank leading to the deaths.

By late Tuesday, “super cyclone” Amphan had slightly weakened and was reclassified as “an extremely severe cyclonic storm”. Still, by Wednesday evening, it was wreaking havoc over the vast stretches of Bangladesh, West Bengal and Odisha, flattening fragile dwellings, swamping homes, bringing heavy showers, snapping utility poles and wires and knocking down trees.

The populous Indian state of West Bengal bore the brunt of Cyclone Amphan, which barrelled out of the Bay of Bengal with gusting winds of up to 185km per hour and a storm surge of around five metres.

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said at least 10 people had died in the state, and two districts been completely battered by one of the strongest storms to hit the region in several years, according to Reuters.

"Area after area has been devastated. Communications are disrupted," Banerjee said, adding that although 500,000 people had been evacuated, state authorities had not entirely anticipated the ferocity of the storm.

With rains continuing, she said the hardest hits areas were not immediately accessible. Federal authorities said they could only make a proper assessment of the destruction on Thursday morning.

"We are facing greater damage and devastation than the COVID-19," Banerjee said, referring to the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, which has so far killed 250 people in the state.

In West Bengal's capital city, Kolkata, strong winds upturned cars and felled trees and electricity poles. Parts of the city were plunged into darkness.

An official in the adjoining Hooghly district said thousands of mud homes were damaged by raging winds.

Residents of Gabura, an island union in Satkhira’s Shyamnagar, are being moved across the Kholpetua river in an engine-powered boat to Nildumur shelter as Cylone Amphan approaches the coastline. Photo: Tomzid Mollick

Residents of Gabura, an island union in Satkhira’s Shyamnagar, are being moved across the Kholpetua river in an engine-powered boat to Nildumur shelter as Cylone Amphan approaches the coastline. Photo: Tomzid Mollick

In Bangladesh, authorities had shifted around 2.4 million people to more than 15,000 storm shelters this week. Officials also said they had moved hundreds of Rohingya refugees from Myanmar, living on a flood-prone island in the Bay of Bengal, to shelter.

But officials said they feared that standing crops could be damaged and large tracts of fertile land in the densely-populated country washed away.

"Fortunately, the harvesting of the rice crop has almost been completed. Still it could leave a trail of destruction," Mizanur Rahman Khan, a senior official in the Bangladesh agriculture ministry, told Reuters.

Fierce wind gusts and rains snapped power supply, plunging much of the coastal zone in Bangladesh into darkness on Wednesday. More than one million consumers in at least 17 associations of the Rural Electrification Board have lost electricity. Apart from this, almost 40,000 customers of West Zone Power Distribution Company have been left with no electricity supply.

Cyclones frequently batter parts of eastern India and Bangladesh between April and December, often forcing the evacuations of tens of thousands and causing widespread damage.

Forecasts showed that the Rohingya camps in Cox’s Bazar were not in the cyclone’s direct path, but aid workers said the storm still posed enormous risks for the refugees, The New York Times reported.

Residents were stocking up on food and wrapping personal documents in plastic while humanitarian groups were placing inflatable boats in the camps to prepare for storm surges of several feet, according to the report.

Government officials were securing steep, muddy hillsides with concrete and bamboo to prevent landslides from the rain, it added.

SURGE AND HIGH TIDE

Surging waters broke through embankments surrounding an island in Bangladesh's Noakhali district, destroying more than 500 homes, local official Rezaul Karim said.

"We could avoid casualties as people were moved to cyclone centres earlier," Karim said.

Embankments were also breached in West Bengal's Sundarbans delta, where weather authorities had said the surge whipped up by the cyclone could inundate up to 15km inland.

The ecologically-fragile region straddling the Indian-Bangladesh border is best known for thick mangrove forests that are a critical tiger habitat, and is home to around 4 million people in India.

On the Sundarbans' Ghoramara island, resident Sanjib Sagar said several embankments surrounding settlements had been damaged, and some flooding had started.

"A lot of houses have been damaged," he told Reuters by phone.

Anamitra Anurag Danda, a senior fellow at the Observer Research Foundation think-tank who has extensively studied the Sundarbans, said embankments across the area may have been breached.

"The cyclone surge coincided with the new moon high tides. It is devastation in the coastal belt," he said.

Rivers across Bangladesh's coastal districts are swelling under the influence of Cyclone Amphan. Kholpetua River in Satkhira’s Shyamnagar, where water only flows downstream at low tide, was overflowing on Wednesday. Photo: Tomzid Mollick

Rivers across Bangladesh's coastal districts are swelling under the influence of Cyclone Amphan. Kholpetua River in Satkhira’s Shyamnagar, where water only flows downstream at low tide, was overflowing on Wednesday. Photo: Tomzid Mollick

Md Mohsin, the director general of the Department of Disaster Management, said the coastal districts experienced tide of 4 to 5 feet higher than normal level due to the storm. Dams were breached in Shyamnagar and Ashashuni, he said.

The authorities were yet to collect all the data on casualties and damage. Mohsin said they will be able to give an initial picture on Thursday after the officials at the storm centres finish their job.

The cyclone crossed Satkhira district and was lying over Jhenaidah at midnight, Bangladesh Meteorological Department said in a special bulletin.

Maximum sustained wind speed within 74km of the cyclone centre was about 160kph rising to 180 kph in gusts or squalls.

It was likely to move in a north-northeasterly direction further and weaken gradually.

Meteorologist Monwar Hossain said the great danger signals in the maritime ports and coastal districts will remain at place overnight.

With details from Reuters