Rescue teams searched for survivors in eastern India, a day after the most powerful cyclone in over a decade devastated coastal villages, destroying mud houses, ripping out electricity poles and washing away bridges.
The full extent of the casualties and damage to property inflicted by Cyclone Amphan would only be known once communications were restored, officials said, but at least a dozen people died in West Bengal.
Most deaths were caused by trees uprooted by winds that gusted up to 185 km per hour (115 mph), and a storm surge of around five metres that inundated low-lying coastal areas when the cyclone barrelled in from the Bay of Bengal on Wednesday.
Designated a super cyclone, Amphan has weakened since making landfall. Moving inland through Bangladesh, it was downgraded to a cyclonic storm on Thursday by the Indian weather office. And the storm was expected to subside into a depression later.
Authorities in both countries managed to evacuate more than three million people, moving them to storm shelters before Amphan struck. But the evacuation effort was focused on communities that lay directly in the cyclone’s path, leaving villages on the flanks still vulnerable.
Television images showed upturned boats on the shore, people wading through knee-deep water and buses crashed into each other. The airport in Kolkata, West Bengal’s state capital, lay under water.
Pradip Kumar Dalui, an official in the state’s South 24 Parganas area, said that storm waters breached river embankments in several places, flooding over half a dozen villages, that were home for more than 100,000 people.
“Many mud houses have been destroyed because of the wind or fallen trees,” Dalui told Reuters by telephone. Electricity lines and phone connections were down in many places, but so far no deaths had been reported in this area, he said.
The cyclone came at a time when India is battling to stop the spread of the coronavirus, and some evacuees were initially reluctant to leave their homes for fear of possible infection in the packed storm shelters.
Cyclones frequently batter parts of eastern India between April and December, often forcing the evacuations of tens of thousands and causing widespread damage.
While the evacuation again saved countless lives, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee dreaded the cost of repairing property and infrastructure wrecked by Amphan.
“Area after area has been devastated. Communications are disrupted,” she said. “We do not know if the damages will run into thousands of millions of rupees, (and it) will take three, four days to fully assess the extent of damage.”