BY RAJNISH SINGH
New Delhi, May 21 (IANS) As cyclone ‘Amphan’ is currently whirling at a speed of 70 kmph over Bangladesh a day after leaving a trail of devastation across a wide swath of West Bengal and Odisha, the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) is setting up special teams to visit these states and assess the damages.
These teams – separate for West Bengal and Odisha, reportedly headed by Deputy Secretary or above rank official and comprising a total of almost a dozen people from various ministries, and are expected to arrive in these states by Thursday evening or Friday, informed sources said.
These teams, learnt to comprise officials from the Disaster Management, Finance, Jal Shakti Ministries, the India Meteorological Department (IMD), the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) among others, will assess the damage and “submit an early report” to the MHA.
Cabinet Secretary Rajiv Gauba, in a review meeting of the National Crisis Management Committee (NCMC) here on Thursday, also said that the Home Ministry teams will be sent to these states to carry out early assessment of damages and submit a report.
The visiting teams will meet those evacuated timely from the two states before the cyclone ravaged the regions, killing over a dozen people and destroying houses, roads and public utilities.
Chief Secretaries of Odisha and West Bengal informed the Cabinet Secretary on Thursday that timely and accurate forecast by the IMD and advance deployment of NDRF facilitated the evacuation of about five lakh people in West Bengal and about two lakh in Odisha.
The Home Ministry teams will submit the report based on which Central assistance will be declared. However, the states informed in the NCMC meet that there was minimal loss of human lives, considering the fact that the intensity of ‘Amphan’ was next only to that of the super cyclone that struck Odisha in 1999 causing large scale devastation.
The teams will also meet the residents in the presence of the state administrations, which along with the NDRF and other rescue teams, have done commendable relief work as the cyclone pummelled its way over large parts of West Bengal and Odisha through the night, leaving behind a trail of deaths and damages.
West Bengal has informed the Centre that there were major damages to agriculture, power and telecommunication facilities in cyclone-affected areas. Odisha informed that damages have been mainly limited to agriculture.
Reviewing the rescue and restoration efforts, the Cabinet Secretary directed that officers of Central ministries and agencies should remain in close touch with Odisha and West Bengal state governments and provide all required assistance expeditiously.
Meanwhile, the NDRF has moved additional teams in West Bengal to speed up restoration work, especially in Kolkata. A total of 36 NDRF teams were earlier deployed in both the states, while rescue and relief teams of the Army and Navy along with ships and aircrafts of the Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard have been involved in relief operations.
While Odisha was spared the worst of ‘Amphan’, the Sunderbans region and six south Bengal districts felt the full impact of winds gusting at 155-165 kmph along with torrential rain after the cyclone made landfall near Sagar Island around 2.30 p.m. on Wednesday and entered Kolkata, about 100 km north, around 5 p.m.
In the first few hours ‘Amphan’, a Thai name means sky, already destroyed over 5,000 houses in Minakhan, Haroa, Basirhat Hingalganj and Hasnabad areas of North 24 Parganas district in West Bengal. Most of the areas in Howrah and North 24 Parganas faced massive power cuts due to heavy rainfall. Roofs of several houses also collapsed as a result of the strong winds during the cyclonic spell. There have been damages inside the state secretariat building Nabanna as well.
Heavy rains and huge gush of wind storms damaged the roofs of several buildings and uprooted a massive number of trees across Kolkata and its adjoining Howrah district in West Bengal.
The Food Corporation of India, meanwhile, is on the job to ensure adequate availability of food grains, especially rice, to West Bengal so that marooned people are provided immediate sustenance, a Home Ministry official told IANS.
The Power Ministry and Department of Telecommunications have been assisting in early restoration of services in both the states. However, the Railways, which suffered major damages to its infrastructure, is in the process of restarting its operations at the earliest, said the official.
Barrelling in from the Bay of Bengal with wind speed of up to 185 kmph, Amphan on Wednesday cut a swathe through northern Odisha bearing down on West Bengal and moved north-northeastwards on Thursday, before weakening into a cyclonic storm and lying centered at 5.30 a.m. over Bangladesh.
(Rajnish Singh can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)