The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Close shave with crosswind

6 am: Calcutta wakes up to a grey leaky sky. The rains are accompanied by gusty winds. With a shiver, the city greets the season’s first pre-winter cyclone.

The minimum temperature dips to 21.9 degrees Celsius, and many choose to remain indoors. News that a cyclonic storm may hit the city some time towards the afternoon contributes to the stay-indoor syndrome.

The storm inches closer at a speed of 30 kph and stays nestled about 320 km south-west from Calcutta.

8 am: Reports of flooding come in from low-lying areas of Topsia, Tiljala, Narkeldanga, Thanthania, Paikpara, Rabindra Sarani, Burrabazar, Bagbazar, Elliot Road, Ripon Street, Free School Street and the Lake area.

The cyclone closes in and, under its impact, the rain intensifies. The relief department alerts chief minister Buddhaddeb Bhattacharjee, alarmed at reports that the storm may nudge the city’s southern suburbs.

Writers’ Buildings gets cracking. Bhattacharjee’s orders from home are relayed downwards to the district magistrates of Howrah, Hooghly, Purba and Paschim Midnapore, North and South 24-Parganas. While the police and civil defence personnel are instructed to stay ready to move out at short notice, fishermen are directed not to venture out to the deep sea. Tension mounts as director-general of police D.C. Vajpai instructs the superintendents of police in the six districts to be on alert.

10 am: Having been alerted by the Met office, officers at the Calcutta Municipal Corporation headquarters swing into anxiety mode. An SOS is shot off to the state government, seeking assistance if the cyclone hits the city. Member of the mayor’s council in charge of drainage Rajib Deb speaks to engineers at all the pumping stations.

11 am: Bhattacharjee briefs his Cabinet on the arrangements taken.

2 pm: The cyclone rests about 120 km from the city and the rain, by then, has left a trail of devastation. One person is killed and two are injured when the first among the six trees to be uprooted falls on them near the Tollygunge Metro Rail station. Trees also topple in front of National Library, on Gurusaday Road, Amherst Street, Bhupen Bose Avenue, Lord Sinha Road and Alipore Park Road.

3 pm: Met office chief R.N. Goldar breathes easy. “We have had a close shave,” he says. He has reasons to be happy. Though the cyclone was scheduled to cross the West Bengal coastline in the evening, it has crossed Sagar Island around 2.30 pm. “It has lost its sting and is likely to weaken further,” he adds.

Under its influence, a gale with a wind speed of 70 kph blows across the Bengal coast.

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