Cyclone Amphan: Death toll reaches 80; state staring at record agriculture-loss

Centre will also deploy a team to assess the extent of damage in the state, Modi said

cyclone-Amphan-bus-kolkata-salil Cyclone Amphan left a trail of destruction all over West Bengal | Salil Bera

Cyclone Amphan has ravaged the farming sector in at least 14 of the 23 districts in West Bengal and the loss incurred may create an all-time record, state Agriculture Minister Ashish Banerjee said on Friday.

Earlier in the day, Prime Minister Narendra Modi flew down to Kolkata to take stock of the situation in large swathes of West Bengal that were decimated by the cyclone and announced an advance assistance of Rs 1,000 crore for restoration work, as the death toll due to the natural calamity mounted to 80.

According to initial estimates, Hooghly and Birbhum districts have incurred a loss of Rs 600 crore and Rs 462 crore respectively, Banerjee told PTI.

In East Midnapore, a coastal district, crops in around 47,000 hectares of land were destroyed, while 70 per cent and 50 per cent of paddy in Burdwan East and Bankura districts were lost, officials said.

The agriculture department is trying to collect data about the devastation from other districts.

"There are at least 14 districts where agriculture has been devastated. We have not received reports from all the districts as connectivity is yet to be fully restored. But from the initial reports, we can understand that the losses could be an all-time record," Banerjee said.

The minister held a meeting with Pradip Majumdar, the adviser to the chief minister on agriculture, and other senior officials at the state secretariat on Friday.

Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has ordered to estimate the losses incurred in the horticulture and agriculture sectors due to Cyclone Amphan within a week.

In East Midnapore, paddy crop in around 30,000 hectares, sesame in around 12,000 hectares and vegetables in around 5,000 hectares of land have been lost due to the cyclone, a senior official of the agriculture department said.

Betel plant cultivation in the district has also been hit "very badly", he added.

"Farmers had hoped that after the lockdown is lifted, they will be able to sell their produce and compensate for their losses. The cyclone has thrashed all their hopes," the official told PTI.

Birbhum District Magistrate Moumita Godara said an estimation of the loss caused by Cyclone Amphan was being done and the picture will be clear in a day or two.

In Burdwan, most of the lands where paddy was cultivated have been inundated.

"We had managed to harvest only 30 per cent of the paddy cultivation. The rest is now under water. The entire paddy is lost," an official said.

In Bankura, there has been a huge loss in the harvesting of Boro paddy and vegetable farming.

"Around 50 per cent of the Boro paddy was lying in the fields. They are under water for two to three days.... So it is a total loss," a senior official of the agriculture department said.

The mango orchards in Murshidabad district were also badly hit by the cyclone, he added.

"Around 30 per cent of the mangoes have fallen from the trees during the cyclone. It will be very difficult for the farmers to make any profit. Rather, they are likely to incur a huge loss," the official told PTI.

The flower growers of Howrah and Hooghly districts are also severely affected, he said.

Several attempts to contact senior officials of South 24 Parganas, one of the worst-hit districts, failed because of connectivity issues.

The agriculture minister is slated to hold a meeting with officials of East and West Burdwan, Bankura and Birbhum districts on May 26 in connection with the estimation of the losses.

Modi, along with Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar, conducted an aerial survey of the cyclone-ravaged areas earlier in the day and held a review meeting.

Prior to the meeting, Banerjee demanded that 'Amphan' be declared a national disaster. She said the state had suffered losses to the tune of Rs 1 lakh crore in the fiercest cyclone to hit the state in over 100 years.

Banerjee said she reminded the PM about Rs 53,000 crore the central government owed to the state for various social security schemes.

The PM also announced an ex gratia of Rs 2 lakh each for families of the deceased and Rs 50,000 for the injured.

Meanwhile, eight more bodies were recovered from different parts of the state since Thursday evening, raising the death toll to 80, officials said.

Large-scale damage to infrastructure, public and private property was reported from North and South 24 Parganas, East and West Midnapore, Kolkata, Howrah and Hooghly districts.

North 24 Parganas District Magistrate Chaitali Chakrabarty said nearly 50 lakh people have been affected and communication networks destroyed.

The Centre will also deploy a team to assess the extent of damage in the state, he said.

West Bengal BJP president Dilip Ghosh said the Union government should directly transfer the money into the accounts of the beneficiaries to avoid any "irregularities".

Dissatisfied with the assistance amount, Leader of the Congress party in Lok Sabha, Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury said Rs 1,000 crore is "nothing compared to the damage that the state has suffered".

Lakhs of people were rendered homeless as the cyclone cut a swathe through half-a-dozen districts of West Bengal on Wednesday night, blowing away shanties, uprooting thousands of trees and swamping low-lying areas.

In some parts of the state, survivors were left with houses reduced to debris and water-filled farmlands.

Although electricity and mobile services were restored in some parts of Kolkata and North and South 24 Parganas—the two worst-hit districts—large areas of the city continued to remain without power as electric poles and communication lines had been blown away by super strong winds.

Meanwhile, several protests demanding relief and restoration of electricity and drinking water supply took place in parts of the state, including the state capital.

Kolkata Mayor Firhad Hakim assured that normalcy would be restored within a week.

Over 5,000 trees, beside a few hundred electric posts, traffic signals and police kiosks have been uprooted in and around Kolkata, he said.

"I can assure the people of Kolkata that normalcy would be restored within a week. We are in touch with the private power supply provider and had asked them to restore the lines as early as possible," the mayor said.

Out of the eight bodies that were recovered, four were from Kolkata and two each from South 24 Parganas and Howrah.

Teams of the NDRF and the State Disaster Relief Force (SDRF) have been working on a war-footing to clear the roads blocked by fallen trees.