Authorities are now rushing to provide aid to communities already affected by the coronavirus, hampered in many areas by the heavy rains and fallen debris that made the roads impassable.
Large-scale evacuation efforts seem to have saved many lives, but it could take days to realize the full extent of the deaths, injuries and damage caused by the cyclone.
At least 72 people have died in the state of West Bengal, including 15 in the city of Calcutta, Chief Minister of State Mamata Banerjee said Thursday. Among them, a young girl killed after the collapse of a wall inside her house in the district of Howrah.
“I have never seen such a disaster,” Banerjee told reporters. “All regions have been destroyed. Nothing remains.”
In neighboring Bangladesh, 10 people have been confirmed dead, according to the Government Center for Health Emergency Operations. Among those killed was a 57-year-old Red Crescent volunteer in Barisal who drowned while trying to help others with safety, said the Bangladesh Red Crescent Society.
Rescue teams worked overnight and Thursday morning in the states of West Bengal and Odisha, India, to clean up trees and other road debris.
“The whole nation stands in solidarity with West Bengal,” he wrote. “My thoughts are with the people of Odisha as the state bravely combats the effects of Cyclone Amphan.”
Banerjee said she would appeal to the central government in New Delhi to ask for help and ask Modi to visit the disaster area of the Bay of Bengal.
No deaths have yet been reported in the neighboring coastal state of Odisha, despite heavy winds and storms, the government said.
The “pulverized” Sunderbans Islands
S.N. Pradhan, director general of the Indian Disaster Relief Force (NDRF), said that the worst damage was concentrated in two of the coastal districts of West Bengal and that the Sunderbans were “pulverized” by the cyclone.
The Sunderbans are an ecologically fragile group of low-lying islands spread across India and Bangladesh, known for mangrove forests and rare wildlife, including the endangered Bengal tiger.
“The maximum impact, as expected, was seen there,” said Pradhan.
Four of the state’s least affected districts could be operational in four to six days, and parts of the Odisha coast are expected to return this evening, he said.
“People have started to leave the shelters to assess the damage to their homes. Some have even started to repair their damaged homes,” said Pradhan.
In Kolkata, the largest city on the direct path of the cyclone and home to 14 million people, Pradhan said that many trees had been uprooted and that “the city has never seen such strong winds”.
Cyclone Amphan is a bigger disaster than the coronavirus epidemic, Chief Minister of State Banerjee said on Wednesday at a press conference.
“The entire southern part of the state has been affected. We are shocked,” said the chief minister. “The cyclone affected the electricity supply and destroyed many houses, bridges and dikes.”
In the cyclone-affected areas, many villagers live in temporary houses with thatched or tin roofs, which were easily swept away by strong winds.
In Bangladesh, almost all of the coastal districts were severely affected by Cyclone Amphan, according to Ranjit Kumar Sen, an official with the Bangladeshi Ministry of Disaster Management and Relief.
Sen said the damage along the coast was “enormous”. Of the 10 people killed in the country, five were in Barisal state – including the Red Crescent volunteer – four in Khuna and one in Chittagong.
Several poorly maintained dams broke down before the cyclone even hit land, causing major flooding in parts of the country.
Snigdha Chakraborty, with the charity Catholic Relief Services, said the country has experienced storm surges reaching 4.5 meters (15 feet), flooding homes across the country.
Amphan weakened in equivalent to an Atlantic tropical storm as it crossed the border between West Bengal and Bangladesh Thursday morning, but continues to blow strong winds of up to 110 km / h (68 mph). The system is expected to continue to weaken over the next 24 hours as it moves northeast.
The next danger will come from heavy rains, which could cause sudden flooding in the region until Thursday morning.
Mass evacuations and coronavirus
An ambitious evacuation by India and Bangladesh saw around 3 million people displaced to safety across the two countries, according to regional authorities.
The rescue operation took place despite the fact that India and Bangladesh were still subject to strict foreclosure orders due to the coronavirus. The virus, which continues to spread in both countries, has complicated the emergency response as rescue teams seek to keep people safe while protecting them from the risk of Covid-19.
India transmitted more than 100,000 confirmed infections earlier this week, according to Johns Hopkins University, and recorded its biggest one-day peak on Wednesday with 5,611 new cases. Meanwhile, the number of infections in Bangladesh is increasing rapidly, with more than 1,300 new cases on Sunday, its largest increase to date. In total, the country has registered 26,738 confirmed infections, according to Johns Hopkins.
In Odisha, where more than 150,000 people were evacuated, a total of 211 of the 809 permanent cyclone shelters in the state were used as Covid-19 quarantine centers.
“Social distancing is certainly a very good concept, but applying it as strictly as possible in a disaster situation is not always possible,” he said.
According to the authorities, around 500,000 people have been temporarily accommodated in storm shelters in West Bengal in India, which suffered the brunt of the cyclone winds. In Bangladesh, the government said it had evacuated 2.4 million people. as well as around 40,000 farm animals.
It is not known when many of these people will be able to return home. Bangladesh Oxfam director Dipankar Datta said on Wednesday that thousands of makeshift homes in Bangladesh had been uprooted due to the cyclone.
In what is likely to be a glimmer of hope, Chakraborty of Catholic Relief Services, no major damage has been reported so far in the large refugee camps of Cox’s Bazar, which are home to almost a million of Rohingya refugees and have been a source of concern to assist workers after cases of Covid-19 were identified there last week.
Some weak shelters were damaged during the storm and now need to be repaired, she said.
Although it is feared that the storm precipitation – although it has hit land on the other side of Bangladesh – could still cause landslides and floods in the camps.
Salman Saeed and Abir Mahmud in Bangladesh, as well as Swati Gupta, Rebecca Wright, Brandon Miller, Michael Guy, Joshua Berlinger, Ben Westcott and Angela Dewan from CNN contributed to this article.