The return to normalcy — following the extended lockdown — was stopped in its tracks for Bengal, as Cyclone Amphan stormed in with speeds of 155-165 kmph and ravaged the state.
The damage, pegged at trillions of rupees by Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, was all pervasive. From roads, bridges, and dams to agriculture, horticulture, and industry, Amphan caused extensive damage — spread over an area of 400 km. Even after 24 hours, the losses are being counted.
Banerjee said the storm was catastrophic and its impact on 4-5 districts was disastrous. The overall impact, however, was spread across 7-8 districts. The complete report from districts was yet to come in as communication had not been fully restored.
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“This is a bigger disaster than coronavirus,” she said. Even as the administration evacuated more than 500,000 people, the toll stood at 72. Banerjee said the destruction had impacted agriculture and horticulture, along with roads and dams. The first administrative meeting was held on Thursday, and a preliminary report on the extent of damage will be prepared in seven days.
The cash-strapped government has readied an initial fund of Rs 1,000 crore for restoration and relief work. Fighting Covid-19 had anyway cost the state Rs 1,000 crore —much more than the special fund of Rs 200 crore it had created.
She said the state was facing three challenges — Covid-19, Amphan, and the migrants issue. Banerjee said she hoped the Centre would stand by the state, adding that the Prime Minister could come to see the destruction.
Late evening, PMO India tweeted that the Prime Minister would travel to West Bengal and Odisha to take stock. He will conduct aerial surveys and participate in review meetings, in which aspects of relief and rehabilitation will be discussed.
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People in the know said most of the standing paddy crop had been devastated. Industry, too, suffered damage. Jute mill owner Sanjay Kajaria said many jute mills were impacted and there was considerable damage to property. Most mills worked at 5 per cent capacity on Thursday.
Birla Jute Mills, a unit of Birla Corporation, said there had been considerable damage to various sections of Birla Jute Mills at Birlapur, near Kolkata. “Very high tidal waves had pushed the Hooghly river water into the mill floors. This, along with the heavy rain, aggravated the situation.”
In the industrial town of Haldia, reports of damage to plant infrastructure kept trickling in. People in the know said the special economic zone in Falta was badly hit. The small factory hub in Howrah was also impacted, with Amphan blowing away many sheds. Firms said they were evaluating the impact, and a complete picture would not emerge till communication was restored. Big shops were supposed to reopen on Thursday after the lockdown, but weather conditions made it impossible.
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Communication network was disrupted across the state. At Sagar island, where temporary shelters are located, communication was totally cut off. “We have never seen such devastation. However, the government has been very proactive in rescue work,” said Satinath Patra, president of the Sundarban Samudrik Sramik Union.
The scenario wasn’t any better in Kolkata. Large parts of Kolkata and Howrah remained inaccessible, given thousands of trees and lamp posts were uprooted in the aftermath of the cyclone. So much so that even milk could not be dispatched in the morning. However, power utility firm CESC said that in 90 per cent places, power had been restored. Work in the balance 10 per cent was hit by problems in mobile network. Normalcy is likely to be restored on Friday.
Kolkata-headquartered Bandhan Bank said its services had been impacted in some areas of West Bengal and Odisha due to Amphan and the cyclone is likely to impact business worth Rs 260 crore.
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