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Thousands left homeless as cyclone heaps misery on coronavirus-hit communities

Kolkata (CNN)More than 80 people have been killed and thousands more left homeless after Cyclone Amphan slammed into coastal towns and cities in India and Bangladesh on Wednesday afternoon.

Authorities are now racing to provide relief efforts in communities already stricken by the coronavirus, hampered in many areas by heavy rains and fallen debris that has made roads impassible.

Large-scale evacuation efforts appear to have saved many lives, but it could take days to realize the full extent of the deaths, injuries and damage from the cyclone.

    Amphan — which was the most powerful cyclone ever recorded in the Bay of Bengal before it weakened — ripped apart homes, tore down trees, washed away bridges and left large predominately rural areas without power or communications.

    At least 72 people died in West Bengal state, including 15 in the city of Kolkata, the state’s Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said Thursday. Among them was a young girl killed after a wall collapsed inside her home in Howrah district.

    “I have never seen such disaster,” Banerjee told reporters. “All areas have faced destruction. Nothing is left.”

    In neighboring Bangladesh, 10 people have been confirmed dead, according to the governmental Health Emergency Operations Center. Among those killed was a 57-year-old Red Crescent volunteer in Barisal who drowned when attempting to help others to safety, the Red Crescent Society of Bangladesh said.

    Disaster teams worked throughout the night and into Thursday morning in India’s West Bengal and Odisha states, clearing trees and other debris from roads.

    A man salvages items from his house damaged by Cyclone Amphan in Midnapore, West Bengal, on May 21, 2020.

    Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi acknowledged the devastation caused by the cyclone in a series of tweets on Thursday, writing, “No stone will be left unturned in helping the affected.”

    “The entire nation stands in solidarity with West Bengal,” he wrote. “My thoughts are with the people of Odisha as the state bravely battles the effects of Cyclone Amphan.”

    Banerjee said that she would appeal to the central government in New Delhi for help and ask Modi to visit the stricken area on the Bay of Bengal.

    No deaths have been reported yet in the neighboring coastal state of Odisha, despite wind and storm surges causing heavy damage, according to the government there.

    Sunderbans islands ‘pulverized’

    S.N. Pradhan, director-general of India’s National Disaster Relief Force (NDRF), said the worst of the damage is concentrated in two of West Bengal’s coastal districts and that the Sunderbans had been “pulverized” by the cyclone.

    The Sunderbans are an ecologically fragile cluster of low-lying islands spread across India and Bangladesh, known for mangrove forests and rare wildlife, including the endangered Bengal tiger.

    “Maximum impact, as expected has been seen there,” Pradhan said.

    Four of the state’s least affected districts could be up and running in four to six days, and some coastal parts of Odisha are expected to be back up by this evening, he said.

    “People have started moving out of shelters to assess the damage to their homes. Some have even started repairing their damaged homes,” Pradhan said.

    In Kolkata, the biggest city in the direct path of the cyclone and home to 14 million people, Pradhan said that a lot of trees had been uprooted and “the city has never seen such high winds.”

    Cyclone Amphan is a disaster bigger than the coronavirus outbreak, the state’s chief minister Banerjee said at a news conference Wednesday.

    “The whole of the southern part of the state has been affected. We are shocked,” the chief minister said. “The cyclone has affected the electricity supply and destroyed many houses, bridges and embankments.”

    In the areas affected by the cyclone, many villagers live in temporary homes with thatched or tin roofs, which were easily swept away in the powerful winds.

    In Bangladesh, nearly every coastal district has been seriously affected by Cyclone Amphan, according to Ranjit Kumar Sen, an official at the Bangladesh Ministry of Disaster Management and Relief.

    Sen said that the damage along the coast was “huge.” Among the 10 killed in the country, five people were in Barisal state — including the Red Crescent volunteer — four in Khuna, and one in Chittagong.

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