The toll from the Cyclone Amphan in West Bengal rose to 86 on Saturday, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said, according to ANI. The powerful storm, which hit the Indian coast on Wednesday, wiped out thousands of homes in low-lying areas and left several cities in the mainland without utilities.
In Kolkata, the trail of destruction left behind by the storm led to protests against the administration on Friday, as essential services like phones and electricity remained suspended for the third day, The Telegraph reported. The protesters alleged neither the civic body nor the power supply utility was responding to their calls. By evening, the demonstrations spread and people in adjoining districts such as Howrah and Hooghly also took to the streets.
The cyclone, strongest on record in the Bay of Bengal, knocked down huge trees, snapped power lines and upturned cars. The winds blew apart some buildings, while ropes of rain sent thousands of poor villagers rushing to evacuation shelters. On Wednesday, reports on social media and television stations showed countless electrical wires and lamp posts short-circuiting in the streets. By Thursday, the streets were littered with trees and rubble, as workers struggled to clear the roads.
Around 1.5 crore people of the state have been reportedly directly affected by the cyclone and more than 10 lakh houses were destroyed, PTI reported. Calcutta Municipal Corporation officials told The Telegraph that the storm had felled more than 5,000 trees and 4,000 electric poles. Power supply was switched off to prevent electrocution, they said.
Although electricity and mobile connection were restored in some parts of Kolkata, and North and South 24 Parganas districts, many areas remained in darkness. Other areas were inaccessible because of a dangerous maze of broken trees and live electricity wires sprawled across the roads.
The emergency response was further complicated by the coronavirus outbreak and the lockdown imposed to contain it. This has made the residents angry. Complaining about the administration’s “apathy and ineffectiveness”, many of them blocked roads in protest.
“As there is no power, we cannot pump water to the roof-top tank from the underground reservoir. So, we are having to do without water, too,” said Vijaylakshmi Dubey, a resident of Suryanagar in Kolkata’s Bansdroni area. Dubey said she, along with other residents, took park in a six-hour road blockade in protest against the administration. “I called up the local Calcutta Electric Supply Corporation helpline and several times but no one answered.”
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In Kakdwip area of South 24 Parganas district, people complained they were not given enough tarpaulin sheets to cover the roofs of their houses, which were damaged by the cyclone. In Hingalganj block of North 24 Parganas, people claimed they were running out of food, as shops in the vicinity remained closed for the third day. “The entire area is underwater and we are out of food for the last three days,” said Geeta Mahali, a resident of the area. “We are yet to get any relief.”
Firhad Hakim, chairman of the Kolkata Municipal Corporation board of administrators, assured the people that normalcy would be restored in a week. “More than 5,000 trees have been uprooted,” he told PTI. “We have already cleared several roads. We are in touch with the private power supply provider and had asked them to restore supply as early as possible.”
The West Bengal government on Saturday assured the people that it will deploy “maximum strength in unified command mode” round the clock for the immediate restoration of essential infrastructure and services. Meanwhile, Banerjee urged people to have patience and said the administration was working tirelessly to restore water and power supply.
This came after she conducted an aerial survey of the worst affected regions of South 24 Parganas district for the second day, after accompanying Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar on Friday. “We are facing four challenges at a time, COVID-19, lockdown, issues related to migrant labourers and now the cyclonic disaster,”. The devastation caused by cyclone Amphan is “more than a national disaster” and people should understand the “ground reality” and cooperate, she added.