As Amphan tore into Digha on Wednesday afternoon, giant waves crashed on to roads lining the beach, and trees taller than buildings fell at regular intervals.
Fearful of the cyclone’s ferocity, 48-year-old Sanat Nandi, who had taken shelter with his wife and daughter at a multipurpose cyclone centre in Padima village, worried for their thatched hut as the wind howled and the rain came down hard.
A hand-rickshaw puller, Nandi said the hut was his only possession — the pandemic had exhausted the very little savings he had, and the family had been living on free ration provided by the local panchayat at New Digha in West Bengal’s East Midnapore district.
“If my hut is destroyed in the cyclone, we will be on the streets. My daughter is 15, and will be of marriageable age in a few years. We are praying the cyclone does not bring down our home,” Nandi told The Indian Express.
At least 230 people moved to this shelter as Amphan headed to coastal West Bengal. And most had similar fears and prayers as Nandi — their houses should remain intact. It has been a double whammy for all of them — the pandemic and the cyclone.
Barun Binnari, a 24-year-old who works as a daily wager, was also at the shelter with his parents and brothers. “May this cyclone pass without causing much damage. We have a weak tin-roof house which may not survive this storm. Last year, after Cyclone Bulbul, we had to repair the house. Now, we have no money for repair work,” he said. He has been without work ever since the start of the lockdown.
NDRF personnel deployed at Digha have added responsibilities — sanitisation of the cyclone centre and ensuring social distancing during the wait for the cyclone, its immediate aftermath.
In-charge of the cyclone centre, Abhishek Kumar Gaurav, Assistant Commandant, 2nd Battalion, NDRF, said: “When it comes to natural calamity, it is not possible to say no to people looking for shelter. We can only allow about 350 people here. Some people have also taken shelter in schools. The evacuation process started on Tuesday.”
The basement of the cyclone centre is being used as a cattle shelter. The local panchayat has provided water and food.
In Udaipur, on the West Bengal-Odisha border, a truck carrying migrant workers from Hyderabad to Contai in East Midnapore had been stopped — this is not a designated entry route for inter-state travel.
“After travelling for two days without food, we are now close to our homes. But police have stopped us from crossing the border. Now, we are being told to take a detour via Jaleshwar. The weather is worsening. Why can’t they simply let us cross the border here?” asked migrant worker Gour Hari Das. He is from Ramnagar, about 10 km from the border outpost.
Truck driver Moin Khan said: “The storm is getting worse and I have to return to Hyderabad after dropping the workers. The Odisha government allowed us entry into the state, but the West Bengal police have stopped us.”
A policeman at the border outpost said, “We are only following orders. This is not the designated route for entry. You can see the road has been barricaded. They have to take the detour.”
As Amphan made landfall, a district official said: “The extent of the damage cannot be ascertained until it stops. All our teams are in place to carry out rescue work.”
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