First person accounts of the devastation by super cyclone Amphan  

Super Cyclone Amphan devastated the Sundarbans, parts of Bengal and brought the city of Kolkata to its knees. The devastation would have been more if it had hit the land at high tide

 First person accounts of the devastation by super cyclone Amphan  

Tathagata Bhattacharya

Author and environmentalist Amitav Ghosh has been predicting even more devastating cyclonic storms caused by climate change for the past several years. In a recent interview he said that Cyclone Amphan would have been even more devastating had it hit the city of Kolkata during high tide. It was lucky that the city was hit during low tide.

Here are three first person accounts from the Sundarbans and Bengal on the devastation caused by the cyclone.

Saminul Islam Jharkhali, Sundarbans

On one side of Saminul’s village lies the Matla river and on the other, the Vidyadhari river. The 50-year-old fisherman and beekeeper’s life has changed forever. “Our village had been evacuated to a storm shelter two days earlier. Although I have a pucca house, we decided to move as our roof was made of tin. I managed to carry three goats with me to the local school building. Before moving, I had managed to move around 20 of my bee boxes inside the house and had hoped that at least they would survive.”

He had around 50 bee boxes but his house had space for only around 20. He has lost them all, the hives have been ripped apart, carrying with them around 700 litres of precious honey. “In normal times, it would have easily fetched me Rs 35,000. If I had managed to travel to Kolkata, where there is a demand for natural honey, I would have made at least three times as much,” says the dejected man.

The tin roof of his house also blew off and nearly every belonging in his single storey house has been destroyed. During normal times, Saminul’s two sons and wife would grow some vegetables on the little patch of land where, till the afternoon of May 20, also stood three coconut trees and a few java apple (jamrul in Bengali) trees. They are all gone. The stormwater surge filled his entire patch. “It is all saline water. We won’t be able to grow anything here for years to come,” he says.

Saminul’s fish catches had also gone down drastically during the lockdown period. “Fish and prawns from here travel to all over the world, to Delhi, to Tata (Jamshedpur). During the lockdown, we were only catering to the local market in West Bengal where the big trawlers hold a virtual monopoly. I do not know why all of this is happening at the same time. We must have sinned very badly that Allah has decided to curse us like this.”

Saminul has received Rs 5,000 from the West Bengal government as initial bailout money.

Sharbani Saha Housewife, Tamluk

Never in my living memory did I see or hear anything like this,” says the 47-year-old lady whose husband is in the Central Reserve Police Force. “He is right now posted in Jammu and has not been able to visit us because of the lockdown. I was here at home with my daughter when it all started. In mythology, we have heard about ‘Shib Thakurer Tandob (The Tandav Dance of Shiva). This was it.”

For over six hours, Saha and her 12-year-old daughter Anindita cowered in the living room of their three-room house as nature roared all around them.

“Trees, really big ones, older than us were falling like pencils. Large overhead water tanks were flying like paper planes. And it was all so dark. Not a single tree or electricity pole has been left standing. Window panes were shattering, there was glass all over, water was coming in. It was like hell and that sound of the howling winds was terrifying,” she says, still in shock.

However, Saha is one of the lucky ones who has not suffered major damages to the structure of her home but a lot of the belongings have been damaged by flooding water. Among them is a refrigerator and a smartphone and scores of books and household knickknacks.

“The plants and saplings I used to care for on our roof are gone. For a week, we had no electricity. We saw the rescuers work day and night though. They said it was too risky to restart supply as a lot of the areas were still submerged and there were torn wires lying all around,” she says.

Indrani Roy Mitra Joint Managing Director Mitra and Ghosh Publishers, Kolkata

Ascion of the family that owns one of Bengal’s biggest book publishing companies with sales of several Crores of Rupees every year, she was working with an international NGO at Gopalpur On Sea in Odisha when the supercyclone struck in 1999.

“I have now seen two of the worst ones but this one was definitely the strongest. I have never been so afraid in my life. All of us were huddled in one room in our 100-year-old house. It was like apocalypse. Somehow, our old structure held out, whereas I saw the balcony of a modern apartment in my area collapse. Fortunately, my house had power too though just six houses apart, the neighbourhood did not have any power for over three days.”

She was heartbroken though when she finally visited her office in the historic Boi Para (The Books Neighbourhood), the largest book market in the world where thousands throng the length of Kolkata’s College Street.

“There was waist-high water and the 500 second hand book sellers had lost everything. Their stalls were lying strewn all over the main road, pages wet and tattered. Giant trees had been felled. The College Street like you knew it once has vanished,” she says, choking on her own words.

Even though her office and godown suffered extensive damages, Mitra and Ghosh has enough wherewithal to overcome those losses. But the small book sellers on College Street can’t.

This has prompted her to start a rescue mission where she is arranging Rs 10,000 for each of the 500 stall owners.

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