A RICKSHAW-PULLER carrying people wades through a waterlogged street during rainfall in Kolkata, on Monday.—AFP
A RICKSHAW-PULLER carrying people wades through a waterlogged street during rainfall in Kolkata, on Monday.—AFP

PATUAKHALI: Millions of individuals in low-lying areas across Bangladesh and India on Monday ‘surveyed tangled wreckage’, left behind by a powerful cyclone. The climate-related event killed at least 16 people, destroyed thousands of homes, smashed seawalls and flooded cities.

Gusts of wind and torrential rain continued to hammer residents, as they tried to salvage whatever remained of their belongings. This was only a day after ‘Cyclone Remal’ made landfall, with fierce gales and crashing waves.

“At least 10 people were killed in the cyclone” in Bangladesh, Mohibbur Rahm­­an, the country’s state minister for disaster, told reporters. A handful of people ‘drowned’, whilst others were ‘crushed’ after their houses collapsed.

In the neighbouring India “at least six people” died, according to Sumit Gupta, who is a senior government official from the state of West Bengal. This includes three who were electrocuted and others who were hit by debris.

A reporter in the affected area said that villages had been swamped by storm sur­ges, tin roofs ripped off, trees uprooted and powerlines cut.

“A total of 3.75 million people have been affected, 35,483 homes were destroyed by the cyclone and another 115,992 homes were damaged” Rahman conveyed of the damage in Bangladesh, alone.

‘Extreme’

In recent decades, cyclones have killed ‘hundreds of thousands’ of people in Bangladesh. However, the number of superstorms hitting its densely populated coast has increased drastically, from around one a year to as many as three, owing to the detrimental impacts of ‘climate change’.

Whilst many are used to the annual storm season, ‘some’ believe this cyclone was stronger and lasted longer than previous ones. “This time the wind is extreme” said a 62-year-old local businessman, Uttom Kumar Das. “It is also lasting longer than before.” Most of Bangladesh’s coastal areas are just a metre or two (three to six feet) above sea level, leaving them vulnerable to storm surges.

The streets of Bangladesh’s second largest city ‘Chitta­gong’ were waist-deep in water after recording 240 millimetres (9.5 inches) of rain, according to the Bangladesh Meteorological Department.

“We are trying to rescue some 100,000 people.” At its peak, Remal’s wind speeds hit 111 kilometres per hour, said Muhammad Abul Kalam Mallik, who is senior weather forecaster at the state-run Bangla­desh Meteorological Department.

In the Indian city of Kolkata, residents ‘sloshed’ through water which was ‘up to their ankles’. Waves driven by the cyclone breached a major embankment on Bangladesh’s ‘Manpura’ island.

“The town protection embankment at Manpura was broken by the strong waves and heavy rains unleashed by the cyclone” said Showkat Ali, a government administrator of the hard-hit Barisal district.

Around a million people in Bangladesh and neighbouring India ‘fled inland’ seeking safety before the cyclone hit, with around 250,000 remaining in concrete storm shelters in Bangladesh.

‘Crying for food’

Whilst scientists say climate change is certainly fuelling more storms, improved forecasting and effective evacuation planning have ‘dramatically reduced death tolls’.

In the Indian state of West Bengal the “cyclone has blown off the roofs of hundreds of houses” and “uprooted thousands of mangrove trees and electricity poles” a senior state government minister, Bankim Chandra Hazra told members of the international press. Hazra added that “Storm surges and rising sea levels have breached a number of embankments,”. “Some island villages are flooded.”

Sumita Mondal (a 36-year-old) hunkered down overnight, away from India’s coast. She said she had fled with ‘what she could carry’.

“My three-year-old son is crying for food” she told reporters’, via telephone.

The Bangladeshi weather expert, Mallik said the expansive ‘Sundarbans mangrove forest’ (where the Ganges, Brahmaputra and Meghna rivers meet the sea) ‘helped dissipate the worst of the storm’. “Like in the past, the Sundarbans acted as a natural shield to the cyclone” he said.

However, Abu Naser Mohsin Hossain, Bangladesh’s senior forest official for the Sundarbans, says the storm surge swamped crucial freshwater areas with salt water.

“We are worried” said Hossain. “These ponds were the source of fresh water for the entire wildlife in the mangroves, including the endangered Bengal tigers.”

Published in Dawn, May 28th, 2024

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