Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday announced emergency financial aid of Rs 1,000 crore in advance to West Bengal to tide over the destruction caused in the state by Cyclone Amphan. At least 80 people have died in the state after the storm, strongest on record in the Bay of Bengal, hit the Indian coast on Wednesday. He also announced immediate aid of Rs 500 crore for Odisha.

“Everyone is fighting Covid-19,” the Prime Minister’s Office tweeted. “In such a time, we had a super cyclone in some parts of India. This became very worrying. At the same time, due to the well established processes in Odisha, many lives were saved. I congratulate the people and the Government of Odisha.”

Modi added that Rs 500 crore would immediately be released to Odisha to overcome the impact of the cyclone. “At the same time, there has been damage to property, which we reviewed in a meeting today,” Modi added. “All possible assistance will be provided by the Centre to ensure quick relief work. Rs 500 crore will be given to Odisha as advance assistance.”

The announcements came after Modi conducted an aerial survey of the damage caused by the cyclone in West Bengal and Odisha. In West Bengal, he was accompanied by Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar.

“To ensure minimum loss, the state and central governments have worked together,” Modi said in West Bengal. “However, we couldn’t save around 70 lives and we do feel sad about it. We are with them at this hour of grief.”

The prime minister said Rs 2 lakh would be given to the next of kin of the victims and Rs 50,000 each to those with injuries. A team will be sent by the Centre to conduct a detailed survey of the destruction, he added.

The Centre will address all aspects related to rehabilitation and reconstruction in the state, Modi said. “We all want West Bengal to move ahead,” he added. “The Centre will always stand with West Bengal in these testing times.”

This is the first time that the prime minister has travelled outside Delhi in nearly three months, after the countrywide lockdown to contain the coronavirus brought the country to a standstill. “We are battling a pandemic on one hand and on the other, there is a cyclone situation in some parts,” he said. “Dealing with the pandemic requires social distancing whereas battling the cyclone requires people to move to safer areas. Despite these contradictions, West Bengal is fighting well.”

Thousands of houses were wiped out and low-lying areas were swept under torrential rain as Cyclone Amphan made landfall near Sagar Islands in South 24 Parganas district on Wednesday. The storm snapped power lines, blew roofs, upturned cars and uprooted trees. The destruction caused, unprecedented in recent public memory, also left Kolkata airport completely flooded. The airport, however, began operations at noon on Thursday.

Banerjee said 15 of the victims were from Kolkata and the rest from the adjoining districts. Most of the victims were electrocuted by downed wires and sustained injuries from falling trees.

Modi’s visit to the state came after Banerjee reached out to him and asked him to visit the state. The damage assessment teams will submit reports within a week.

Opposition parties ask Centre to declare cyclone a natural calamity

Meanwhile, 22 Opposition parties issued a joint resolution calling on the Centre to declare the cyclone a national calamity, PTI reported. The parties issued the resolution after holding a virtual meeting to discuss the coronavirus situation. The meeting was chaired by Congress President Sonia Gandhi.

“We, the opposition parties, extend our sympathy and support to the governments and people of West Bengal and Odisha in meeting the impact of the devastation caused by Cyclone Amphan,” the resolution said. It added that the cyclone has come as a double blow to the states, which are already battling the Covid-19 crisis.

The parties asked the Centre to make relief and rehabilitation the top priority. The resolution warned that the government should also consider the possibility of the outbreak of other diseases as a result of the cyclone.