SATKHIRA, BANGLADESH (AFP) – At least 22 people died as the fiercest cyclone to hit parts of Bangladesh and eastern India this century sent trees flying and flattened houses, with millions crammed into shelters despite the risk of coronavirus.
Millions were left without power after Cyclone Amphan, packing winds of around 150 kilometres per hour, carried away electricity pylons, walls and roofs, officials said yesterday as they began to assess the damage.
Residents in the Indian city of Kolkata, the capital of the hard-hit West Bengal state, awoke to flooded streets with some cars window-deep in water and television footage showed the airport inundated.
“The impact of Amphan is worse than coronavirus,” Chief Minister of West Bengal Mamata Banerjee told local media, saying that at least 12 people had died in the state.
“Thousands of mud huts have been levelled, trees uprooted, roads washed away and crops destroyed,” she said.
Bangladesh officials said at least 10 people had died, including a five-year-old boy and a 75-year-old man both hit by falling trees and a cyclone emergency volunteer who drowned.
Officials said they were waiting for reports from the Sundarbans, a UNESCO World Heritage site famed for its mangrove forest and population of endangered Bengal tigers, which bore the brunt of the storm.
“We still haven’t got the actual picture of the damage. We are particularly concerned over some wild animals. They can be washed away during a storm surge in high tide,” Forest Chief Moyeen Uddin Khan told AFP.
Cyclones are an annual and growing hazard along the Bay of Bengal coast, claiming the lives of hundreds of thousands of people in recent decades.
But in recent years, despite an increase in their frequency blamed partly on climate change, improved warning systems have enabled authorities to be much better prepared.
The cyclone was weakening as it moved northwards through Bangladesh but still unleashed heavy rains and fierce winds in Cox’s Bazar, the district which houses about one million Rohingya refugees from Myanmar.
Amphan was the first “super cyclone” to form over the Bay of Bengal since 1999, and packed winds gusting up to 185kph at sea.
It brought a storm surge – a wall of ocean water that is often one of the main killers in major weather systems – that roared inland.
Official in the Khulna coastal district of Bangladesh Anwar Hossain Howlader said a three-metre surge had destroyed embankments protecting villages despite locals toiling through the night.
“It caused massive destruction. Thousands of trees have been uprooted. Embankments have broken down at many places, inundating many villages. The damage and destruction of crops and fish farms have been huge,” he said.