An electric pole uprooted by the storm blocked Mall Road in the heart of Darjeeling on Tuesday. Picture by Suman Tamang
Darjeeling, Aug. 20: The political plan was to hold rallies in the hills today. But the elements had something else in store for Darjeeling.
This morning, people in the hill town woke up to take stock of the havoc brought by a thunderstorm the previous night. Snapped power lines, bad or no water supply, and fallen trees, around a hundred of them uprooted and blocking roads of the town, was what residents saw.
No casualties were reported. In one family, three persons were injured when a tree fell on their home.
In tea gardens around Darjeeling, several hundred trees were believed to have fallen, damaging labourers’ homes in six estates.
According to Sandeep Mukherjee, the secretary-general of the Darjeeling Tea Association: “Six gardens in and around Darjeeling town have been affected. About 1,000 trees have been uprooted and more than 100 labourers’ quarters damaged”.
The Gorkhaland Joint Action Committee had planned to hold rallies today in Darjeeling and Kalimpong. But barring a march in Kalimpong, nothing happened. Today’s planned rally in Darjeeling would have been the first organised by the joint action committee.
The rallies did not happen for another reason, it has emerged. Roshan Giri, the general secretary of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha, said there was some confusion regarding the rallies. “There was some confusion today. People were confused,” Giri said. He did not elaborate on what caused the confusion.
“Given the disruption caused by the thunderstorm, we have decided not to organise the rally in Darjeeling today and tomorrow. We, however, appeal to our Morcha supporters to start participating in rallies which will start from 10.30am onwards from August 22,” Giri added.
The Morcha has, however, not made any appeal to people to open commercial establishments or run transport tomorrow. In Kalimpong, where the thunderstorm did not do as much damage as in Darjeeling, the matter of leadership confusion came to the fore.
Enos Das Pradhan, the chairman of the eight-party joint action committee, said over phone from Kalimpong: “We hope to co-ordinate the rallies better from tomorrow. The joint action committee is… a conglomeration of different political parties. Everyone must come forward as it is an agitation of all parties.”
Sources in the hills said the arrests of a large number of Morcha leaders and activists had also affected the organising capability of the Morcha. Kunal Aggarwal, the Darjeeling superintendent of police, said: “Since July 29 (the first day of the protests), the total arrests made are 651.”
“Local leaders used to help mobilise the people but at the moment most of the local leaders are behind bars,” said a source.
Most Darjeeling residents were busy clearing roads, or helping neighbours cut down branches that had fallen on their houses.
Trees were uprooted at Chowrastha, the Raj Bhavan area, Lloyd Botanical garden and the Mall.
The portion of the roof of Eden hospital, the largest hospital in the hill town, was also blown away.
Gopal Lama, additional district magistrate, said: “By late afternoon, we were able to open the roads.”
Officials of the electricity department said they were trying hard to restore power in town.
“The main electric line from Lebong to Darjeeling has been disrupted. Electric poles have also been uprooted. We outsource repair work to private contractors and there is shortage of manpower,” said an official of the department.
Amir Gurung, 36, his wife Sona, 32, and their relative Sabika Gurung, 16, were admitted to the hospital with injuries after a tree crashed on their home.
The thunderstorm that hit the hills on Monday night and how widespread the damage was
When did the thunderstorm start?
Around 9.30pm. It continued till 11pm
How much rain did Darjeeling get?
Till 8.30am on Tuesday, Darjeeling got 30mm of rainfall. In Kalimpong, the total rainfall was 60mm
Was the wind speed high?
No, in Darjeeling, the wind speed was around 30kmph during the storm. Compared to Aila’s peak wind speed of 120kmph in 2009, the Darjeeling thunderstorm would seem moderate. On April 18 this year, a Nor’wester hammered Calcutta with a wind speed of 116kmph
Since when has there beena power cut in Darjeeling?
Since 9.30pm on Monday.The power connections tillTuesday evening have notbeen restored yet
When will power lines be restored?
According to officials of WBSEDCL, power supply should be back in all parts of the town by Wednesday afternoon
Other than power, has any other vital facility affected?
Water connection was cut off in Tungsung and Bhutia Busty in Darjeeling. It is likely to be restored soon. It would not affect people much as hill residents generally store water for two-three days. Internet connections have been erratic since the storm
Are Kurseong and Kalimpong equallyaffected like Darjeeling?
No. The two hill subdivisions saw minor damage, nothing like Darjeeling
How many trees have been uprooted approximately?
No figure was available till Tuesday evening. According to sources, several hundred trees have been uprooted across Darjeeling subdivision, especially in the tea estates. In Darjeeling town, around a hundred uprooted trees blocked thoroughfares. A Darjeeling Tea Association official said in six gardens, labourers' quarters were damaged. He put the number of fallen trees in the gardens at “about 1,000”.
Why did so many trees fall though wind speed was moderate?
Botanists in Siliguri gave several reasons. First, the hills have more forest cover than the plains. Second, because of deforestation and consistent felling of trees in the hills, the rocks and soil that bind the roots become loose. Also, during the monsoon, the soil tends to come loose because of continuous seepage of rainwater. “This is why so many trees got uprooted in the hills on Monday night,” said A.P. Das, a faculty member in the department of botany of North Bengal University
What were the big junctions or roads that were cut off because of fallen trees?
The major areas that were cut off because of the fallen trees were Hill Cart Road, Lebong Cart Road, Mall Road, Jalapahar Road and roads in Toongsong and Bhutia Busty. The roads were cleared by 4pm on Tuesday
What has the Met department forecast?
Rain or thundershowers likely in places in sub-Himalayan Bengal and Sikkim
Text by Avijit Sinha in Siliguri