GAIGHATA: As 36-year-old Samiran Datta sat in the yard of his Gaighata home, which had collapsed like a pack of cards under a large tree that had uprooted, he seemed lost in his thoughts, comparing the devastation wreaked by Cyclone Aila 11 years ago and Cyclone Amphan that pounded Bengal on Wednesday evening.
“It was also May, 11 years ago, when Aila hit and we were robbed of a roof over our head overnight. We struggled for months before we could get back on our feet. I don’t know if we can survive the damage this time as we have nothing left,” said Datta, devastated by the destruction but grateful that none of his family members was among the four persons from North 24 Parganas who were found dead. According to the district administration, the deceased were Noor Jahan Bewa, Gopal Bhuiyan, Mahanta Das and Binapani Sarkar. Eighty-eight-year-old Sarkar from Mahajatinagar in Agarpara died after the corrugated-sheet roof collapsed when a tree collapsed on it. While her family ran out, she could not. “We tried to rescue her but in vain. Her lifeless body was found from under the debris on Thursday,” said her nephew, Debkanti Sarkar.
More than 700 villages in North 24 Parganas went under water and 80,000 people were shifted to relief camps.
As the day broke, a 30-km stretch of Jessore Road from Duttapukur to Gaighata on North 24-Parganas realized the havoc that the cyclone had wreaked on the area: large trees had uprooted, smaller ones flung away and homes reduced to a rubble. Till Thursday evening, the district administration estimated that at least 80,000 people had turned homeless. With communication channels collapsing and electricity yet to be restored to several villages, rescue and rehabilitation operations hit a wall.
“I have never seen such a fierce storm in my life,” said Ashoknagar’s Bela Roy (43), pointing at a twisted electric pole lying on the road. “Look at that. It seems like a toy flung into the air and trampled on. When the thatched roof of our kitchen was blown away, we ran out to take shelter in a nearby pucca house. In the morning, we found a heap of debris that was once our home. We took years to build it but it was wiped out in a matter of a few minutes,” said Roy, heading for the panchayat office to ask for a plastic sheet.
In Basirhat, a house was rare to come by that had not been damaged. Electric poles were uprooted and overhead wires snapped. Residents were seen making all efforts to push aside broken branches or tree trunks from their homes. “We do not know when power will be restored. It was not this bad when Aila had hit us 11 years ago,” said Ganesh Ghosh, a resident of Basirhat.
According to the district administration, Hingalgunj, Sandeshkhali, Basirhat, Minakhan, Baduria, Habra and Ashoknagar were the worst affected there. Standing crop, worth Rs 14crore-Rs 15 crore, were damaged and embankments of the Ichchamati, Raymangal and Bidyadhari breached at many places. Arterial roads, such as Jessore Road, Taki Road, B T Road and Kalyani Expressway, had been blocked by uprooted trees at several places.