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Monsoon Wading
Dam in the sky bursts & kills

Calcutta, June 13: A dam built overnight by two mighty arms in the Calcutta sky burst when the city woke up this morning, dumping 1,950 million buckets of water in three hours.

Fifteen lives were lost in southern Bengal in the wake of the most destructive monsoon debut in the region in recent times. Bolts of lightning and electrocution from snapped wires accounted for most of the deaths.

The advent of the monsoon — usually a joyous occasion — sent a shiver down Bengal’s spine this time primarily because of the conspiracy of two atmospheric factors.

Much like an invading army that works in stealth in the dark, a trough of low pressure and a cyclonic circulation (anti-clockwise movement of air) amassed moisture from the Bay of Bengal through the night on Tuesday.

Simultaneously, acting like monstrous magnets, the twin formations shook loose the monsoon current that was stuck in north Bengal. The freed wave soon began rolling towards the south, delayed but not defanged.

“These two phenomena pulled in huge loads of moisture from the Bay of Bengal since last evening and also helped drag the monsoon over to Calcutta,” the director of the weather section at the Alipore Regional Meteorological Centre, G.C. Debnath, said.

As Calcutta and the rest of south Bengal snored, column after column of thunderclouds — some as tall as 8 km — moved into position, loaded and coiled to strike. “There was a dark grey cover over Calcutta by early morning,” said Debnath.

Telltale signs of the impending aerial assault rent the air since late Tuesday night, when flashes of lightning streaked the Calcutta sky.

At 5.30 in the morning, the floodgates opened and stayed so till 8.30 am. Within these three hours, 105.5 mm of rain fell on Calcutta.

If you use an everyday yardstick, it means 1,950 million buckets of water over an area that matches the jurisdiction of the Calcutta Municipal Corporation. On a more individual scale, each Calcuttan could have filled 177 buckets of water from the rain that fell in three hours.

Officially, the Met office keeps 24-hour records of rain — the figure was 132.8 mm from Tuesday 11.30 am to Wednesday 11.30 am — but what sank Calcutta was that three-hour fusillade.

When such volumes of water come crashing down — and given the state of the civic army’s battle-readiness — life can do little but come to a standstill.

Winds — roaring down city thoroughfares at 56 kmph — uprooted trees and the water flooded vast areas.

Many schools were declared closed and early office-goers were marooned in vehicles on water-logged roads for hours.

If the meek suffered, so did the mighty. Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee was stranded at the CPM headquarters on Alimuddin Street.

He had to abandon his warhorse Ambassador and borrow the taller Bolero from party leader Biman Bose. “It is a terrible situation,” Bhattacharjee said.

The Met office said there is little chance of such heavy rain again during the next 24 hours. “We expect rainfall but not as heavy as this morning’s,” said Debnath.

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