At least 72 people have died in West Bengal due to Cyclone Amphan, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said on Thursday and urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi to visit the affected districts and provide help to "rebuild those areas from scratch".
The chief minister also announced a compensation of Rs 2 lakh to Rs 2.5 lakh for the family members of each of the deceased. All the deaths were caused to tree and house collapse and electrocution, she said.
"So far the reports we have received, 72 people have died in the state due to Cyclone Amphan. Of these 17 are from Kolkata. Two districts --North and South 24 Parganas -- are completely devastated. We have to rebuild those districts from scratch. East Midnapore has also suffered extensive damage. Despite saving several lakh people, many have suffered. It would take at least 10-12 days to come up with a concrete assessment of the extensive damage. I would urge the Central government to extend all help to the state," Banerjee said after conducting a review meeting with officials.
"I will visit the affected areas very soon. The restoration work will start soon. A large part of North and South 24 Parganas and Kolkata are facing massive power cut since last evening. Even telephone and mobile connections are down… I am unable to get in touch with the DMs of affected areas, the connectivity is so poor.”
When Amphan made a landfall in coastal areas around 2.30pm on Thursday, the secretariat temporarily lost communication from ground zero. Banerjee said it was like a ‘tandav’ (dance of fury) underway and ‘sorbonash’ (catastrophe) all over.
“The only saving grace is that the cyclone passed during low tide... Had it happened during high tide, the damage would have been more extensive,” Banerjee said.
She further said North and South 24 Parganas are reeling under drinking water crisis as ponds and water bodies have been inundated and contaminated. Power supply would also have to be restored soon. Banerjee said that she has handled several cyclones in the past, but has never seen a disaster of this magnitude.
“Aila affected some pockets of the state... We have barely recovered from the impact of Bulbul... We weren't much impacted by Fani... But Cyclone Amphun has been the mother of all disasters It was worse than the COVID-19 pandemic.”
"I would request the prime minister to come and visit Cyclone Amphan-affected areas," Banerjee said. She further said the government is looking forward to financial assistance from the Centre as soon as possible.
“Funds for COVID-19 is pending. The state coffers have run out of money. We have no earnings at present. We are incurring massive expenditures on account of the pandemic and now this natural disaster happened.
Trees have been also damaged extensively. “Large-scale afforestation has to be done by the forest department. Sunderbans mangrove cover has suffered hugely. Fresh plantation of mangroves must be ensured. Large stretches of farmland has also been destroyed,” Banerjee said.
Earlier in the day, Modi wrote on Twitter that the entire nation stands in solidarity with Bengal in this hour of challenge. “Have been seen visuals from West Bengal on the devastation caused by Cyclone Amphan. In this challenging hour, the entire nation stands in solidarity with West Bengal. Praying for the well being of the people of the state. Efforts are on to ensure normalcy.”
He further worte, “Central government is working in close coordination with the government of West Bengal. No stone will be left unturned in helping the effected.”
Sundarbans Affairs Minister Manturam Pakhira termed the cyclone as the fiercest one in his life. He said that though it is too early to comment on the extent of damage, it will take years to restore complete normalcy in the area.
“Sea water damaged several hectares of farmland. More than 80 per cent of the embankments were breached in coastal areas of South 24 Parganas district. We are thankful to our chief minister for her prompt action which has saved lakhs of lives,” Pakhira said.
Meanwhile, the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) is setting up special teams to visit Bengal and Odisha that has also been affected by the cyclone to assess the damage.
These teams, reportedly headed by deputy secretary or above rank official and comprising a total of almost a dozen people from various ministries, and are expected to arrive in these states by Thursday evening or Friday, sources said.
The visiting teams will meet those evacuated timely from the two states before the cyclone ravaged the regions, killing over a dozen people and destroying houses, roads and public utilities.
The teams will submit the report based on which Central assistance will be declared. The states informed in a review meeting of the National Crisis Management Committee (NCMC) that there was minimal loss of human lives, considering the fact that the intensity of 'Amphan' was next only to that of the super cyclone that struck Odisha in 1999 causing large-scale devastation.
(With inputs from agencies)