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Tuesday, June 22, 2021

As Yaas nears, nightmares of Amphan haunt evacuees

Hundreds of people have been evacuated from coastal and low-lying areas in the district and moved to cyclone and flood centres for safety.

Written by Santanu Chowdhury | Digha |
Updated: May 26, 2021 7:02:12 am
Villagers in Digha being told to evacuate. (Photo: Partha Paul)

Left reeling by the Covid-19 lockdown that cost him his job, 44-year-old migrant labourer Panchanan Tudu is worried about losing his hut to cyclone Yaas, which is expected to make landfall south of Balasore in Odisha on Wednesday afternoon. The same thing had happened during cyclone Amphan last year. The impending storm has forced Tudu to seek refuge in a shelter in the coastal town of Digha in Purba Medinipur district with his mother, wife and two children.

“Last year, during cyclone Amphan, my hut was completely destroyed. Instead of receiving Rs 20,000 from the Amphan relief fund, I received only Rs 5,000. I had to rebuild the house on my own. If the hut gets ravaged again then I will have no money to rebuild it as there has been no work for last one month,” he says.

Like Tudu, hundreds of people have been evacuated from coastal and low-lying areas in the district and moved to cyclone and flood centres for safety. Those who have sought refuge in these shelters remember how Amphan left behind a trail of devastation in south Bengal. More than 100 people died in the cyclonic storm. For the evacuees, the situation has not changed much. Even as another cyclone comes knocking, they are still praying for the safety of their family members amid a raging pandemic and a statewide lockdown, and hoping that their properties do not get damaged in the storm.

“It feels like yesterday. It was in the month of May last year that I lost my livelihood due to lockdown and my house due to cyclone Amphan. This year, it is happening again. This time, the chances of contracting the Covid-19 infection are higher compared to last year,” says 55-year-old Kalipada Hembram, a migrant labourer.

Fisherman Binay Patra, 36, is hoping that the storm subsides before causing a lot of destruction. “I have kept my boat tied at Digha Mohana [the estuary of Champa river]. If the storm intensifies, then it will damage my boat. This will cause a lot of hardship as there is hardly any income due to the lockdown,” he says.

With Yaas nearing the coast, National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) teams have been evacuating people from coastal and low-lying areas on a war footing. In Duttapur Palli, near the Bengal-Odisha border, The Indian Express saw a team of 25 NDRF personnel shifting people to shelters.

“This cyclone centre can accommodate more than 200 people after maintaining social-distancing norms. Last night, about 160 people were brought in. Today, more are being evacuated. Two of our teams are placed in Digha for rescue and relief operations. We are ready to act once the cyclone passes East Midnapore district,” NDRF Inspector Raj Kumar Shil tells The Indian Express.

The local panchayat has provided drinking water and relief materials to those evacuated. The basement of the shelter has been turned into a cattle shelter.

Meanwhile, about 18 km away, in the coastal town of Tajpur, workers repair and reinforce an embankment damaged by large waves. A coastal road connecting Tajpur and the town of Shankarpur has got cut off.

“Since morning, tall waves crashed on the embankment one after another. There is also a surge in the water level. Several areas are already inundated. We don’t know what will happen when the actual cyclone comes,” says Shankar Bera, lugging sandbags to repair the embankment.

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