| A boy tries to salvage some of the tiles from what was the roof of his house, flattened by the storm in Mograhat. Picture by Bishwarup Dutta
Sept. 20: A rainstorm that battered coastal Bengal around Tuesday midnight left 18 people dead in its wake. Seven of them were children.
Sixteen people were killed in the Sunderbans. Around 25,000 houses were flattened and 100,000 people were rendered homeless in some 500 villages there.
Many fishing trawlers that had sailed from South 24-Parganas were reported missing in the high seas.
Finance minister Asim Dasgupta said at Writers’ Buildings that the toll might go up. “We have sanctioned Rs 4.5 crore for distribution of relief,” he added.
About a hundred people were injured in South 24-Parganas and the two Midnapores.
Six of them were first-year students of the Haldia Institute of Technology in East Midnapore. A portion of the asbestos roof of an adjoining hostel landed on them. Three students were brought to Calcutta for treatment from the port town, 130 km away.
Roofs that gave way and trees that were ripped out were the biggest killers.
The Regional Meteorological Centre at Alipore said the wind blew at over 60 km an hour for several hours from Tuesday midnight.
“A well-marked low pressure that formed over north-west Bay of Bengal and coastal Bengal and Orissa today is about to hit land. Heavy rain is expected over the next 48 hours,” a senior Met official said. Fishermen have been asked not to venture in the high seas.
Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, however, said tonight that the low pressure had shifted towards Orissa.
Mathurapur, Patharpratima, Raidighi, Basanti, Joynagar, Kultali, Mograhat, Namkhana, Kakdwip and Canning in the Sunderbans, covering over 500 sq km, were ravaged.
Eleven people were killed in Mathurapur alone.
Schools, colleges and markets in most places were closed. With many overhead wires snapped and electricity poles uprooted, most areas did not have power.
Giasuddin Molla, 50, and his family had a miraculous escape at Jugdia village in Mograhat, 70 km from Calcutta.
“I woke up to a rumbling noise and saw between flashes of lightning the tiles of our roof falling in a heap. I grabbed my two daughters and rolled over. My wife tried her best but her hand was trapped under the rubble. She escaped with a fractured arm,” he said.
Sheikh Masoom, 45, was also woken up by the rattle of breaking tiles. He ran out to a field with his family of five. They received only minor injuries and were treated at the local health centre.
Tajuddin Mohammad, 50, a resident of Shibpur in Mograhat, took no chances. He sat in the field with his six family members, braving the storm and the blinding rain. “I was scared to death after I saw my veranda collapse,” he said.
A 19-year-old girl was killed when a tree fell on her at Nandigram, East Midnapore, while a 50-year-old man was electrocuted at Belda in West. Over 2,000 huts collapsed and about 10,000 people are now homeless in these districts. In Haldia, a jetty collapsed and a trawler and a launch sank.