Cyclone Amphan’s Trail of Devastation

Cyclone Amphan’s Trail of Devastation

Fifty-five year old Latika Mollah lost her asbestos roof to the cyclone. Her house is flooded and the sacks of paddy that she had stored in her house, is spoilt. Latika lives with her widowed daughter and granddaughter in Raidighi panchayat. A landless labourer, she had leased some land. She was really looking forward to the income from the paddy. She had nearly 80 sacks, she says.   

“All my paddy is gone. My neighbours tried to save some but everything is wet. We are poor. We don’t know what to do now.” She and her family had moved in to a neighbour’s pakka house before the cyclone made landfall on May 20.  Adhar Haldar, too, lost his paddy. All the chicken in his coop died. His house close to the embankment is now under two feet of water.

Cyclone Amphan made landfall on May 20 in Sundarbans around 2.30 pm and then it was hours of absolute devastation in India’s West Bengal and in Bangladesh. Lives were lost, houses collapsed, power and telephone connectivity disrupted, trees uprooted, the ones that stood turned yellow due to the water from the Bay of Bengal, and the land has been rendered saline and useless for at least a few years. Official death toll stands at 98. 

As the landfall began, and until there was some network, we kept getting videos of heavy rains, strong winds, tin roofs blowing away, and trees swaying wildly just minutes away from snapping into two. After the cyclone had passed — and hours of eerie silence later — we started receiving photos of the havoc caused by Amphan. They were grim photos of people standing in front of skeletal remains of what used to be their house, of some lucky to just have lost a roof, of uprooted trees, of scattered utensils, cots, clothes, and of people clutching on to their loved ones and their most cherished possessions.

Murshid Alam Sheikh, an Oxfam India consultant working as an officer overseeing Emergency Food Security and Vulnerable Livelihoods (EFSVL) was there. His brother’s house was totally destroyed, an uncle’s tin roof blown away, and another relatives goat barn flattened. The goats thankfully were all brought and kept in Murshid’s verandah just before the cyclone. Around 6-7 families from his neighbourhood spent the night at his place. “I spent the entire time, cooking for friends and families. We have never seen anything like this before.”

The lockdown and the subsequent loss of jobs made matters worse. Thirty-five year old Mosalim Sheikh was a daily wage labourer at a galvanising plant in Howrah who lost his job due to the lockdown. He had cultivated 10 kathas of land but all that was destroyed during the cyclone and the heavy rains. He lost his house to the cyclone. He along with his wife and four children have shifted to his brother’s house. “My children have lost their books. I have no job, no money, no house, no crops.”

His neighbour Varun Mallik too lost his job at the Howrah factory. He had returned home. Due to financial constraints, children dropped out of school. His kachcha house swept away by the cyclone, he and his family of four are now staying with his brother. “The lockdown and the cyclone has taken everything away from us.”

“Sundarbans is finished” quoted a news report, a few days later. A couple of my friends who have either worked in or studied the Sundarbans are distraught. I had been to the Sundarbans once on an assignment in 2014 and back then people were still reeling under the impact of Aila. Then there was Bulbul and now Amphan has left behind a trail of further destruction.

Oxfam India is on the ground. Nearly 1800 shelter kits — groundsheet & tarpaulin — have been distributed among those who lost their homes to Cyclone Amphan in 7 blocks of South 24 Parganas, North 24 Parganas and Medinipur in the Sunderbans.

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