Amphan Aftermath

Thousands stranded amid poor response

Emran Hossain | Published: 00:07, May 23,2020


Thousands of people remained stranded in scores of southern coastal villages flooded by seawater after cyclone Amphan caused dozens of breaches in the coastal embankments.

On Thursday, the death toll from the cyclone rose to 27 as authorities recorded more deaths after re-establishing communication with areas that had been out of reach since the cyclone hit on Wednesday afternoon.

Though the disaster management ministry confirmed 10 deaths until Friday, the control room at the health services directorate confirmed that 27 people were killed in nine districts.

The highest number of 13 people were killed in Jashore while three were killed in Pirojpur, two each in Patuakhali, Bhola and Chuadanga and one each in Khulna, Satkhira, Jhenidah and Chattogram.

The deaths occurred in building or wall collapse or by drowning or after being crushed under trees.

The disaster management department failed to alert people in at least a dozen districts that were in the path of the cyclone where most deaths took place.

There are places in the worst-hit districts such as Satkhira, Patuakhali, Barguna and Barishal where people are living under the open sky on coastal embankment, in rickety boats or at homes with the rooftop missing.

‘The cyclone left some real deep wounds that are still bleeding,’ Bhobotosh Kumar Mandal, chairman of Burigoalini union parishad, Satkhira, told New Age.

Many of the mud houses that somehow escaped the punishing cyclone winds or were half-damaged are getting eroded by waves of water coming through the damaged embankment, said Bhobotosh.

The government measures to close the breaches in coastal embankments, which grew larger every minute by the force of the seawater, seemed inadequate given that there are at least 84 such breaches requiring immediate repair.

Water Development Board was dispatching geobags to temporarily plug the embankment holes but their work was hampered by rough sea conditions.

Disaster management and relief secretary Shah Kamal said that the armed forces joined in embankment repairing in at least two places — Koyra and Sharankhola.

‘It would take a while to repair all the breaches in coastal embankment,’ said Kamal.

Nine of the 20 villages in Burigoalini union are submerged by water as 2.5 km of the coastal embankment protecting them was washed away by the tidal surges during the storm.

In Padmapukur union 12 villages are under water with its 37,000 inhabitants.

‘The people in my union have lost almost every belonging and now they don’t have a place to live,’ said SM Ataur Rahman, chairman, Padmapukur union parishad.

Other emergency disaster responses such as relief material distribution and fresh drinking water supply were absent in the badly affected areas.

For 37,000 people of Padmapukur union, the government released only 3 tonnes of rice while they are on their own to arrange for the rest of what they need to survive, said the chairman.

Most of the people lost their homes, their means of livelihood such as crop lands, fish and poultry farms overnight and now they have hardly any help to bounce back, said Ataur.

Disaster management and relief minister Enamur Rahman took a helicopter tour to the affected areas, including Satkhira, Barishal, Khulna, Bagerhat, and told New Age that they saw some waterlogged landscape where the water level was slowly dropping.

‘The situation is far better than what we had anticipated,’ said Enam.

He said that people already cleared roads of trees and other obstacles and most of the places were easy to reach.

Shyamnagar union parishad chairman SM Jahurul Haider said that they had been without power for two days and that 70 per cent of the 50,000 people in his union were affected by the cyclone.

Control rooms set up at WDB and local government divisions said that it may take a week for them to start repairing the embankments and hundreds of damaged bridges, culverts and roads.

Rural Electrification Board member Anjan Kanti Das said that nearly half a million people were still without power in Satkhira, Bagerhat and Jashore and it might take one or two more days to restore power.

The government initially estimated that the cyclone inflicted damages worth of Tk 1,100 crore in 26 districts.

Amphan was the deadliest cyclone to form over the Bay of Bengal since 1999 but when it hit Bangladesh it was significantly weakened.

The government had evacuated 24 lakh people before Amphan hit and they have now returned to their homes.

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