Cyclone Bulbul made landfall at Sagar Island in South 24 Parganas around 8 pm on Saturday accompanied by heavy rainfall and wind speed gusting between 120-140 kmph. There were reports of hundreds of trees getting uprooted and several mud houses collapsing in the coastal areas. There were also reports of power cuts with the snapping of electricity lines.
The massive impact of the cyclone was mostly felt in South 24 Parganas and adjoining East Midnapore districts. Earlier in the day, there was a report of a fatality in Kolkata where a 28-year-old died after a tree fell on him.
“It is likely to weaken gradually… As predicted, the speed of the wind will be 50-60 kmph at the time of reaching Kolkata,” said G K Das, Deputy Director General of Meteorology, Regional Meteorological Centre, in Kolkata.
Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who held a press conference in the night after the cyclone made the landfall, said that she would be spending the night at a special control room set up at state secretariat, Nabanna, to monitor the relief work.
Besides six teams of State Disaster Response Fund (SDRF) and 10 teams of National Disaster Relief Force (NDRF) deployed for the relief and rescue operations, the government has readied 1,335 civil defence personnel in case of any untoward incident. A total of 94 boats have also been deployed, a senior government official said.
The NDRF and SDRF teams have been deployed in Jhargram district, Kharagpur in West Midnapore, Digha in East Midnapore, Kakdwip in South 24 Parganas and in North 24 Parganas. The districts of East and West Midnapore, Purulia, Birbhum, Bankura and North and South 24Parganas were put on a high alert.
The government said 1.58 lakh people were evacuated from vulnerable areas. While the evacuation process started from Friday evening, it got intensified on Saturday evening as the storm neared. The government said that it has opened 318 relief camps giving shelter to 1.08 lakh people.
A total of 64 relief camps with a capacity to accommodate 1 lakh people have been opened in Kakdwip subdivision consisting four blocks — Kakdwip, Sagar Island, Namkhana and Bakkhali.
“Relief camps are functional and our team of civic volunteers, SDRF and NDRF are working 24×7. A large number of people have already been evacuated from the low-lying areas and we are constantly monitoring the situation. Necessary infrastructure is in place. We had an early weather warning that helped us make people aware of the coming storm. We have also constructed embankments to prevent the low-lying areas getting flooded,” said Sundarban Development Minister Manturam Pakhira who visited Kakdwip Saturday afternoon.
With heavy rainfall predicted, people will be allowed to stay in the relief camps till Monday. Earlier in the day, all flight operations at Kolkata airport were suspended till Sunday morning after nearly 23 flights had to be cancelled from 11 am on Saturday due to rain and strong winds. “We sincerely apologise for the inconvenience caused,” a statement issued by airport authorities said, adding that the decision was taken keeping in mind the safety of the passengers.
Ferry services in Kolkata and suburban areas were also suspended and will likely resume on Sunday depending on the weather conditions. Kolkata river traffic police also kept alerting people throughout the day using loudspeakers. Schools, colleges and anganwadi centres have also been closed.
Urging people to not panic, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee called for calm. “Please do not panic. Kindly remain calm and cooperate with the administration in its rescue and relief efforts. Be alert, take care and stay safe,” she said, adding that she herself was monitoring the situation and the administration has taken all measures to tackle any contingency.
“Cyclone Bulbul is about to pass through Bengal. Our state administration is closely monitoring the situation 24×7. We are taking all measures to tackle any contingency. Special Control Rooms have been set up and NDRF-SDRF teams are deployed,” Mamata tweeted.
Meanwhile, the National Crisis Management Committee (NCMC), the country’s apex body to handle any emergency, on Saturday reviewed the preparedness to deal with the situation in the affected coastal districts of West Bengal and Odisha.
The meeting of the NCMC, headed by Cabinet Secretary Rajiv Gauba, was informed by the India Meteorological Department (IMD) that the cyclone has now intensified and is likely to cross the West Bengal coast by Saturday evening.
Chief Secretaries of West Bengal and Odisha, who participated through videoconferencing, informed that necessary preparations have been made by them and State Disaster Response Fund and fire service teams have been positioned.
Fishing operations have been suspended and people in low lying areas. As many as 16 teams of NDRF and SDRF have been positioned in West Bengal and additional teams are being deployed at the request of the states.
Officials of the Ministry of Defence intimated that a requisite number of ships, aircraft and specialised teams of the Indian Coast Guard, Indian Navy, Army and the Air Force are on standby.
At the same time, all-out efforts for timely restoration of power and telecommunication facilities are in place. In the wake of the present situation, fight operations at Kolkata airport may need to be temporarily suspended, they said.
The Eastern Naval Command, which is also closely monitoring the movement of the storm, said that it has deployed aircraft for relief and have rescue operations. “Three ships with relief material are on standby in Visakhapatnam.
Additionally, 10 diving and medical teams are also kept ready for augmenting rescue and relief efforts in Odisha and West Bengal… Naval Officers-in-Charge of West Bengal and Odisha are in constant liaison with respective state administrations for rendering assistance as required,” a statement issued by Eastern Naval Command stated.
According to the coast guard, ships have been moved to safer locations at Paradip, Dhamra and Sagar Island.
Deputy Inspector General S R Dash, who is Commander of Coast Guard, West Bengal, said that three disaster management teams have been stationed at Haldia and two at Fraserganj in South 24 Parganas district for timely action.
“We are trying to achieve zero casualty,” Dash told PTI. The cyclonic storm is being constantly monitored through radars at Haldia in West Bengal and Paradip and Gopalpur in the coastal state of Odisha, the coast guard said.