At least 84 people died as the fiercest cyclone to hit parts of Bangladesh and eastern India this century sent trees flying and flattened houses, as millions crammed into shelters despite the risks posed by coronavirus.
Millions were left without power after Cyclone Amphan, packing winds of approximately 170kph (105 miles an hour), carried away electricity pylons, walls and roofs, officials said on Thursday as they began to assess the damage.
Residents in the Indian city of Kolkata, the capital of the hard-hit West Bengal state, awoke to flooded streets, with some cars window-deep in water, and television footage of the inundated airport.
“The impact of Amphan is worse than coronavirus,” Mamata Banerjee, chief minister of West Bengal, told local media, saying that at least 72 people had died in the state.
“Thousands of mud huts have been levelled, trees uprooted, roads washed away and crops destroyed,” she said.
Bangladesh officials said at least 12 people had died, including a five-year-old boy and a 75-year-old man – both hit by falling trees – and a cyclone emergency volunteer who drowned.
Officials said they were waiting for reports from the Sundarbans, a UNESCO World Heritage Site famed for its mangrove forest and population of endangered Bengal tigers, which bore the brunt of the storm.
“We still haven’t got the actual picture of the damage. We are particularly concerned over some wild animals. They can be washed away during a storm surge in high tide,” forest chief Moyeen Uddin Khan told AFP.
Cyclones are an annual and growing hazard along the Bay of Bengal coast, claiming the lives of hundreds of thousands of people in recent decades.
But in recent years, despite an increase in their frequency blamed partly on climate change, improved warning systems have enabled authorities to be much better prepared.