The human toll of Cyclone Amphan, the most powerful of the 21st century to date in the Bay of Bengal, remains very uncertain due to the extent of disasters and telecommunications outages. The official balance sheets of the two countries currently report at least 22 dead, but this figure is only very fragmented.
While the winds were raging in the Bangladeshi city of Tala, Shafiqul Islam spent three hours sheltered under his bed with his wife and two children, consumed by remorse for having made a “huge mistake” by not going to one of the high pressure shelters. When he finally got out, “the house was destroyed. Most of our neighbors’ houses were destroyed, ”said the 40-year-old farmer. “We are on the brink of death”.
Appearing this weekend off the coast of India, Amphan made landfall late Wednesday south of Calcutta, accompanied by winds around 165 km / h and heavy rain. Over three million people had been evacuated and taken shelter as it approached.
“The cyclone did not kill people here. But it has destroyed our livelihoods, “Bhabotosh Kumar Mondal, an official in the Bangladeshi town of Buri Goalini, told AFP, where Amphan” left an incredible devastation. “
The cyclone caused a tidal wave up to three meters high which submerged on part of the coastline and caused heaps of salt water to surge through the villages. “It caused huge destruction,” said Anwar Hossain Howlader, a senior official in the Bangladeshi province of Khulna. The dykes that protect low-lying villages and shrimp farms “have failed in many places, flooding many villages,” he added.
Night of terror
In India, the situation is identical and the damage also of great magnitude. “Cyclone Amphan devastated the coast of West Bengal. Thousands of homes have been torn down, trees uprooted, roads submerged and crops destroyed, “Mamata Banerjee, the chief minister of state, told the press.
After a night of terror, the fifteen million inhabitants of Calcutta woke up to the spectacle of a city with flooded streets, cars filled with water sometimes to the windows and traffic lanes blocked by trees and electric poles fallen to the ground.
In the morning, the cyclone had weakened to the point of simple tropical depression, said the Indian meteorological services. Amphan had reached category 4 out of 5 on the Saffir-Simpson scale on Monday, with winds of 200 to 240 km / h. It is the most powerful cyclone to be born in the Bay of Bengal since 1999, when a cyclone killed 10,000 people in Odisha.
Complicated by coronavirus
The countries of the region have learned the lessons of the cyclones of previous decades: they have built thousands of shelters for the population and implemented rapid evacuation policies. The coronavirus pandemic, however, has made their work much more difficult this year. To prevent the spread of the virus, the authorities had called on the displaced to respect physical distance in shelters and to wear masks.
In practice, these precautionary measures have been little respected, noted AFP journalists. “The room is crowded and maintaining physical distance is impossible here. Everything is in the hands of God now, ”said a 25-year-old woman who fled with her five-month-old son to a school in Dacope.