Cyclone Amphan kills at least 82 in India and Bangladesh

Rescue teams hampered by torn-down power lines and flooding over large tracts of land

Cyclone Amphan has caused widespread damage after lashing India and Bangladesh with 185 km per hour winds. Video: Reuters

 

The most powerful cyclone to strike eastern India and Bangladesh in over a decade killed at least 82 people, officials said, as rescue teams scoured devastated coastal villages, hampered by torn-down power lines and flooding over large tracts of land.

Mass evacuations organised by authorities before Cyclone Amphan made landfall undoubtedly saved countless lives, but the full extent of the casualties and damage to property would only be known once communications were restored, officials said.

In the Indian state of West Bengal, chief minister Mamata Banerjee said on Thursday that at least 72 people had died – most of them either electrocuted or killed by trees uprooted by winds that gusted up to 185km/h.

She said the storm had carved a 400km long swathe through the state and announced a 10 billion rupee (€120 million) emergency fund to rebuild roads, water and health systems. “These areas have been devastated,” she said.

In neighbouring Bangladesh, the initial toll was put at 10. “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 district on the Bangladesh coast.

When the cyclone barrelled in from the Bay of Bengal on Wednesday the storm surge of around five metres resulted in flooding across the low-lying coastal areas.

Footage shot in West Bengal showed upturned boats on the shore, people wading through knee-deep water and buses crashed into each other. More images showed villagers trying to lift fallen electricity poles, fishermen hauling their boats out of a choppy sea, and uprooted trees lying strewn across the countryside.

Cyclonic storm

Designated a super cyclone, Amphan has weakened since making landfall. Moving inland through Bangladesh, it was downgraded to a cyclonic storm on Thursday by the Indian weather office. And the storm was expected to subside into a depression later.

Low-lying Bangladesh has a history of cyclones, but even by those standards Amphan was powerful, said Mostak Hussain, humanitarian director for Save the Children in Bangladesh.

“We’ve received reports that more than 5 million people were disconnected from the electricity grid for their own safety as winds of 150km/h smashed into power lines, destroying homes and uprooting 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 on the Bangladesh side of the forest. “We have seen trees uprooted, the tin-roofs of the guard towers blown off,” he said.

On the Indian side of the Sundarbans, a village official said embankments surrounding a low-lying island, where some 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, said the official, Sanjib Sagar.

Authorities in both countries managed to evacuate more than three 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.

The two countries are already battling to stop the spread of the coronavirus, and some evacuees were initially reluctant to leave home for fear of infection in packed storm shelters. – Reuters