Amphan is a super cyclone that devastated Eastern India particularly West Bengal, Odisha and also Bangladesh. It is the first strongest tropical storm to occur in the 2020 cyclone season and is the first super cyclone to hit the Bay of Bengal since the 1999 Odisha cyclone. On 20 May, 2020 Amphan made landfall in West Bengal almost completely ruining Sundarbans in South 24 Parganas which dealt with the maximum severity of the cyclone. The mainly affected districts of West Bengal are South 24 Parganas and North 24 Parganas. Different parts of Odisha were also affected by the deadly cyclone. It caused heavy damages in Bangladesh as well. This is the third deadliest cyclone that Bengal witnessed since 1582 after 1737 and 1833. It turned out to be a nightmare for the people of Bengal where the storm continued for more than 6 hours. During the fury of the cyclone each passing moment felt like lashes of ferocious nature on the buildings, livelihoods, roads, trees, agricultural fields, etc.
Damages Caused in the areas of West Bengal
Amphan banged the Bengal coast with violent winds blowing over 180 km an hour along with heavy rainfall. The wreckage of the cyclone left the entire state in a vulnerable condition amidst the pandemic situation created by COVID-19. The howling winds uprooted trees, electric poles, destroyed livestock, damaged buildings, ruined power lines leaving many parts of the state including the metropolitan city of Kolkata under long hours of power cut. The entire state of West Bengal faced serious challenges due to no electricity, unavailable of water supply, absence of network leading to almost complete loss of telecommunication services and lack of other essentials. It killed around hundreds and rendered many people homeless too.
On 20 May, the super cyclone made its landfall between Digha and Hatiya of Bengal with the scary winds at the speed of 155-165 kilometers per hour swirling up to 185 kilometers per hour. Alipore weather office observed 112 km an hour as the speed of wind at 5.52 pm on the day of the cyclonic terror. It was found to be 114 kmph at 6.47 pm and again at 7.20 pm the speed was recorded as 133 kmph in Dumdum area. Along with the fierce winds there was heavy rainfall too. The Calcutta Municipal Corporation informed that the Mominpore area had received around 256mm of rainfall in 24 hours till 11 at night.
Amphan has severely ravaged many regions of the state specially the districts of South 24 Parganas where roads were filled with either broken or uprooted trees, collapsed electric poles, walls and roofs of houses and buildings, etc. The Highly urbanized neighborhoods of Kolkata became unrecognizable due to the debris. The visuals from Kolkata Airport showed an aircraft standing in knee-depth water as well as waterlogged runways and injured structures. Almost all the corners of the city and affected districts reflected signs of unprecedented massive destruction.
Along with the loss of human lives many birds were found lying dead in the lanes of the city. A few people provided shelter to the street animals like dogs and cats in their homes but the deaths of a large number of wildlife especially in the Sundarbans remain untraceable. Sundarbans attract tourist for the presence of the famous Royal Bengal Tigers and the area is also an abode for the saltwater crocodiles. But where vulnerable people in most of the perilous areas were evacuated by the state government after learning from the constant weather forecasts ahead of Amphan, not much information was gathered about the affected wild animals of the state. The Chief Conservator of Forest of the Sundarbans Tiger Reserve said that the wild animals would have faced the worst of the crisis because there’s no way to ‘monitor’ them. The forest officials also opined that the destiny of the wildlife spotted in Sundarbans after the cyclone seemed to be undetermined and they have suffered the most. The fields were flooded with saline water making cultivation impossible for the farmers.
Samirul Islam, the president of Bangla Sanskriti Mancha, a civil society group informed that flooding and forceful winds have ruined fishing water bodies, poultry farms, thousands of acres of already prepared paddy fields including mango, litchi and beetle leaf plantations as reported by Gaon Connection.
The National Disaster Relief Force (NDRF) and Army had begun the relief and restoration activities in the state after the cyclone. They helped the forest department and civic agencies in their work of recovering the state from the ravages of Amphan. The teams efficiently worked for clearing the blocked roads due to the uprooted and broken trees and in some areas they were also helped by the locals.
The ‘Unrecognizable Sundarbans’ in the aftermath of Amphan
The furious cyclone accompanied by heavy rains and powerful winds caused havoc in the Sundarban delta which is also a UNESCO world heritage site well known for being the home for a few seldom and endangered species. The region is famous for the population of tigers it has and at present there are 96 protected tigers in the Sundarban forest reserve. It has the world’s largest mangrove forest which resisted the intensified affects of the cyclone. Millions of lives belonging to the region suffered a major setback from the brutal cyclonic affects. Mud houses were reduced to soil, embankments were broken and salt water started pouring in the farmlands making farming unsuitable for the next 4 to 5 years. Saline water ruins freshwaters harming fishes in ponds and prevents sources of drinking water. The cyclone also damaged a nylon fence of about 100 kilometer which was constructed to keep tigers away from human habitations.
Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee informed that about 28% of the Sundarbans regions were destroyed while at the launch of a drive for plantation of mangroves and other trees to symbolize the importance of World Environment Day. There has been severe destruction on the Sundarban side and officials are of the view that in spite of mass plantation drives it may take years to recover the lost mangroves. Ms. Banerjee also mentioned that the Forest Department should plan to plant 3.5 crore mangrove trees by 14 July i.e World Forest Day. The state government was under tremendous pressure to deal with the crises caused by Amphan during the coronavirus pandemic. Therefore the CM tweeted, “We must all work together to restore the greenery in our State.” In most of the areas including the mostly devastated Sundarbans the locals were seen working in unity with the administration while cutting uprooted trees, clearing roads, restoration of power supply etc.
Aids from the State and the Centre
Prime Minister Narendra Modi declared a rehabilitation package of rupees1000 crore for Bengal after surveying the affected areas of the state with the CM and Governor Jagdeep Dhankar. He also mentioned that 2 lakhs will be from the Prime Minister’s Relief Fund will be distributed to the families of deceased and an amount of 50,000 will be given to the severely injured. The State government had also released a relief and rehabilitation of 1000 crore along with a compensation package of 2.5 lakhs for the families of the dead. A few days later the CM of the state again announced an assistance package of Rupees 6250 crore for starting relief and reconstruction work for the affected people of the state.
More assistance and financial aids were provided by the state to the people individually who lost their homes, farmers and other genuine persons. Packages were also released for the repairing and reconstruction of embankments, tubewells, school buildings, drinking water services, toilet facilities, rural roads, poultry, horticulture, etc. The works of repairing and reconstruction had begun soon after the release of the packages. Complete restoration of proper electricity services in different areas were also assured by the CM.
During Amphan Kolkata lost 16000 trees. Therefore it was declared that around Rupees 100 crore would be spent for the plantation of trees in the city and other districts.
Consequences of Cyclone in Odisha and Bangladesh
The trails of Amphan were also faced by Odisha and the neighboring country Bangladesh. The state of Odisha has witnessed intense in many areas like Puri, Khurda, Jagatsinghpur, Cuttack, Kendrapara, Jajpur, Ganjam, Bhadrak and Balasore districts. Despite evacuating a large number of people in the state at least 45 lakh people were affected due to continuous rain and strong winds. The roads were cleared instantly after the cyclone but complete restoration of power in the affected areas needed some more to get back to normal. About 30 lakh power consumers in the state suffered. Saline water also inundated the paddy fields of Bhadrak and Kendrapara districts where farmers suffered due to the conditions of unfit cultivable lands given by Amphan. After surveying the affected regions The Prime Minister announced Rupees 500 crore to be given to the state as assistance to overcome from the losses of the cyclone.
In Bangladesh too the cyclone killed more than 15 people including one Bangladesh Red Crescent Volunteer while performing duty. The person drowned when a boat turned over in water while evacuating some villagers ahead of Amphan. There was also widespread damage in the country that ruined houses, uprooted trees and destroyed livelihoods of people. Similar to India the worst affected ones of Bangladesh were the people who are dependent on croplands and fisheries for their living.
Amphan – A Warning to Humankind
Undoubtedly Amphan has been the most drastic cyclone that the Bay of Bengal witnessed since 1999. It caused enormous destruction and battered the two Indian states, West Bengal and Odisha as well as neighboring Bangladesh. West Bengal dealt with the worst consequences of it. But such a massive and violent cyclone indicates a strong warning to humankind related to climatic change. According to the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD), the number of occurrences of cyclones has enhanced up to 32% in the past five years in the Arabian Sea and Bay of Bengal. It is high time for humans to become aware, stop polluting the seas and oceans by dumping wastes and understand how dangerous the effects of rising temperatures of earth could be. The affects of Amphan implies that the oceans are becoming hot due to the rising emissions and such a condition is very much favorable for the occurrence of tropical cyclones. It has also become very important to address the issues creating global warming and adopt appropriate steps for protecting the environment as a whole.