North and South 24-Parganas:
Around 500 residents desperately tried to fix a 40-feet wide breach in an embankment along the Vidyadhari river at Uchildaha in West Bengal’s North 24-Parganas district amid a trail of destruction Cyclone Amphan has left behind after hitting India’s eastern coast on Wednesday. Only a few brick houses stood amid the damage that the most powerful cyclone to hit the region in over a decade caused. Residents said they were running out of time as the spring tide, which occurs twice each lunar month, was imminent and they feared further damage.
“It is the time of the low tide and we have no time to waste. If we fail to repair the embankment by 8 pm, the spring tide scheduled tonight [Friday] will leave nothing in this village,” said Manas Mahato, the village head of Uchildaha, about 55km from Kolkata.
The village was flooded on Wednesday because of the breach that damaged all fish ponds, the main source of income for the residents, and flattened mud houses.
The cyclone and the four-metre high storm surge that it triggered breached embankments along major rivers at over 100 places across North 24-Parganas and South 24-Paraganas districts. Residents feared the spring tide may bring another wave of destruction for remote villages because of the breaches.
Shibayan Paloi, a resident of Gobindorampur in South 24 Parganas, said the Friday night is most crucial. “It is the new moon and more water will gush in. We do not know what to do. We will have to go back to the school building with our children where we had taken shelter during the storm.”
The new moon was scheduled on May 22 and scientists said that the spring tide phase, when average tidal ranges are higher, has started. “Embankments along rivers Ichhamoti, Bidyadhari, Dasha, Rayamangal and Bethni have been breached in most areas. The panchayats [village councils] are working to fix the breached embankments and more people were evacuated on Friday to avert further loss of human lives,” said Sukumar Mahato, the West Bengal assembly member from Sandeshkhali.
Several remote islands in the Sunderbans region and coastal blocks still remained disconnected even on Friday as telecommunication services were yet to be restored. But there were reports of major breaches in embankments along the Matla and Raymangal rivers from areas like Patharpratima, Kultali, and Gosaba blocks in South 24 Parganas.
Officials said Bidyadhari’s embankment at Minakhan breached at 11 places and hundreds of houses, fish ponds, and farmland were damaged. In the neighbouring Sandeshkhali, embankments were breached at 15 places.
A North 24-Parganas district official said the evacuated people were initially kept in 350 relief centres. “Later, we created 100 more shelters to save people from the flooding through breached embankments and the prospect of the spring tide,” the official said on condition of anonymity.
Several gram panchayat areas remained cut off as hundreds of uprooted trees, electric poles, and towers blocked important roads. Virtually no mud and brick houses with tin, asbestos or tiled roofs withstood the storm. Bridges and culverts were also damaged.
Uchildaha-resident Hasan Sardar said everything in the village is lost. “The houses, crops, fish in ponds… there is no trace of a large number of cattle. The village will be washed away if we fail to repair the breached embankment before the spring tide arrives,” he said.
Some were trying to repair the embankments, while others repaired their badly-damaged houses in Sarabaria, Muchikhola, Mallickbheri in Minakhan, and Haroa areas of North 24-Parganas. Many residents complained of drinking water shortage and said the food local authorities supplied was the only thing they had to eat.
“Tiger prawns, lobsters… from all fish ponds have been washed away. Fishery sector alone is estimated to suffered losses worth Rs 100 crore in Minakhan,” said Mrityunjay Mondal, a leader of the ruling Trinamool Congress, who was supervising the relief work.
The smell of rotting fish filled the air in Gobindarampur village in coastal South 24 Parganas, which is one of the worst-hit districts. Residents said that saline water gushed into the village on Wednesday, killing Rohu, Katla, and Pangash fish in ponds and also triggered a water crisis.
“We use pond water for cooking purposes. The cattle used to drink this water. Now we have to depend on only one tube well in the entire village,” said Hiren Das, a Gobindarampur resident.