A powerful cyclone has killed at least 14 people in eastern India and Bangladesh, bringing a storm surge that swamped embankments and destroyed hundreds of homes in low-lying coastal areas.
- The cyclone is one of the largest to hit the region in years
- Officials said it was too early to estimate a toll on life or damage to property
- The hardest hit areas were not immediately accessible
Around 3 million people were moved to safety in both countries this week, as Cyclone Amphan brewed in the Bay of Bengal to become one of the strongest storms to hit the region in years.
The operation was complicated by efforts to avoid a surge in coronavirus cases.
With gusting winds of up to 185 kilometres per hour triggering a storm surge of around 5 metres, the cyclone moved inland through India’s populous West Bengal state before hitting Bangladesh, where two people were killed by falling trees.
Strong winds upturned cars in West Bengal’s capital Kolkata and felled trees and electricity poles, but officials said it was too early to estimate a toll on life or damage to property.
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said at least 10 people died in the state, and two districts were completely battered.
“Area after area has been devastated. Communications are disrupted,” Ms Banerjee said, adding that although 500,000 people had been evacuated, state authorities had not entirely anticipated the ferocity of the storm.
With rains continuing, she said the hardest-hit areas were not immediately accessible.
“We are facing greater damage and devastation than the COVID-19,” Ms Banerjee said.
Coronavirus has so far killed 250 people in the state.
Hundreds of homes destroyed
Surging waters broke through embankments surrounding an island in Bangladesh’s Noakhali district, destroying more than 500 homes.
Embankments were also breached in West Bengal’s Sundarban delta, where weather authorities had said the surge whipped up by the cyclone could inundate up to 15 kilometres inland.
The ecologically fragile region straddling the Indian-Bangladesh border is best known for thick mangrove forests that are a critical tiger habitat and is home to around 4 million people in India.
Cyclones frequently batter parts of eastern India and Bangladesh between April and December, often forcing the evacuations of tens of thousands and causing widespread damage.
Around 3,500 people were killed in 2007 when Cyclone Sidr cut a path of destruction through Bangladesh, and an estimated 10,000 died after a super cyclone like Amphan struck India’s Odisha state in 1999.
Warning systems, evacuation measures, and storm shelters in both countries have been strengthened since.