For 65-year-old Sudhangshu Mandal, a farmer of Bijaybati village near Bakkhali in South 24 Parganas district, Saturday was a day of déjà vu.
Ten years ago, he had lost his mud house and about 100 cottah land in cyclone Aila, which wrecked havoc in South 24 Parganas district in 2009, killing 149 people in the state.
Apprehending the same on Saturday, Mandal and his family of seven came out of their home, looking for a shelter to save their lives, as cyclone Bulbul made landfall in West Bengal.
“In 2009, my house was destroyed and about 100 cottah farmland was flooded in salt water. I had lost everything and today I fear of losing my house again. Ten years ago, infrastructure here was not that good and we had taken shelter in Bijaybati school,” Mandal recalled the horror of cyclone Aila.
Mandal and about 200 others from Bijaybati village in South 24 Parganas district have taken shelter at Bijaybati cyclone centre – one of the three in Bakkhali block – built three years ago.
Sitting on a mattress on the second floor of the centre, fisherman Joydeb Das (56) stares at sky with prayers on lips. “I pray before god to save us all from this cyclone. I had lost my boats in cyclone Aila and I cannot lose them again,” said Das.
Villagers started pouring in to the cyclone centre with their belongings soon after it started raining heavily, accompanied by ferocious wind.
Covering her head with a plastic sheet, Mitali Gayen (25) dragged her two children to the cyclone centre. “Our house was razed in cyclone Aila. Later we built a pucca house. But, we still don’t feel safe there. We have come here so that my children could have some food,” said Mitali.
Officials from Fraserganj gram panchayat have distributed muri (puffed rice), batasha (sugar stone) and water to the people at the shelter home. As electricity has been snapped in the area, the local panchayat has provided generators to turn on lights at night.
“Things have changed in the last 10 years. Earlier we used to take shelter in schools. People still do, but we have decided to come here as it is a new construction. The infrastructure has improved over the years and we received the warning much before. So a large number of people could come here before the landfall,” said Chandan Das, a farmer.
The four-storey cyclone shelter has over 40 large rooms, which can accommodate over 1,000 people. The shelter has toilet facilities and a kitchen.
However those from far-flung areas, who could not travel to the cyclone centres in deteriorating weather, had to take shelter at local schools.
One such temporary relief camp was set up at Maharajganj Abaitanik Primary School, about 3 km from the Bijaybati cyclone centre, where over 100 people and four cows have taken shelter.
In-charge of this temporary relief centre, Biswajit Das (45), is busy making residents of Haripur village feel comfortable in one of the classrooms. “There are some elderly people who cannot travel to the cyclone shelter in this weather and have come here with family members. We are making all possible arrangements to make them feel comfortable. Dry food has been provided by the Haripur gram panchayat and luckily there is electricity here. The mid-day meal workers of the school have volunteered to prepare meals for all these people,” said Das.
The four cows, belonging to as many villagers, were allowed in an under-construction room. “We cannot leave the animals behind in this weather,” said Lakkhan Charam Mandal, a villager.
In the Bakkhali under Kakdwip subdivision of South 24 Parganas district, there are three major cyclone-cum-flood centres, while several high schools and primary schools have been turned into relief camps.
Kakdwip subdivision is likely to be severely affected once cyclone Bulbul makes landfall between Sagar Islands in West Bengal and Khepupara in Bangladesh on Saturday night. Several trees and lamp posts were already uprooted till the last report was filed as the wind started gaining strength since 5 pm.