I write this with a weak internet connection that has only marginally improved since Cyclone Amphan whipped past a little more than a day ago. As news reports will tell you, over 80 people in West Bengal have died, and around 6 lakh people have so far been evacuated. Parts of Kolkata are flooded, and broken trees litter the ground.
The visuals are rather horrifying. A video circulating on social media for example shows two dead bodies floating in the water. The caption claims that it is from the Howrah district, although this could not be verified. Another set of images shows books floating in murky water in the lanes of India’s biggest book market – College Street.
We’ve not been able to contact some people. Calls do not go through and in some parts of the city there is still no electricity. An acquaintance who lives in Kolkata’s Bansdroni area had said yesterday evening that there was no electricity in the area. Keep in mind that power had gone out around 6 pm on the day of the cyclone. Since then, phone calls refuse to go through. Calls to many other people in the Tollygunge area too refused to go through at the time of this article being written. Another friend who lives in the Mukundapur area of south Kolkata said that power had come back only partially, expressing concern about how the water pump would be run.
A person living in the New Town area said that they had thought it was an earthquake at first. They live on the 18th floor of a high-rise, and the building was shaking – with fans and other attached appliances swaying. Since then, things appear to have improved in the area. In Jodhpur Park, a Facebook post narrates, there are trees, lampposts and live wires lying everywhere.
Another person I know, who lives near Kudghat said that a transformer had been destroyed by a fallen tree. They are yet to get electricity – and have been told that it will not be restored before Monday. An additional concern is that while there are many people monitoring the situation, they are yet to find anyone who will cut the trees. Boral, an area near Kolkata’s Garia, does not have electricity or phone connectivity.
Not all areas have been affected in the same way. Dumdum for example has electricity, but is dealing with low phone connectivity. A similar sitation is present in many of the south Kolkata areas including mine. I stay in the Santoshpur area of the city. As an acquaintance in central Calcutta explained, things were now normal in the area, although connectivity remained bad and roofs made of asbestos had flown away.
A relative living in Hoogly district’s Srirampore area said that power had returned soon after the cyclone passed. Their house had been flooded and for many of the high-rises, windows had shattered. To be fair, shattered windows seem to be a pattern across Kolkata and was a common sound as the cyclone raged.
The last storm I remember was Cyclone Aila nearly a decade ago. My vague memories suggest mild devastation – tilted trees, debris carried in with the storm and so on. On Wednesday afternoon, Cyclone Amphan seemed as though it would go the same way. There were strong gusts of wind, but as I wrote in a message to update my coworkers, “nothing extreme”.
But it got progressively worse. At one point in the early evening, a sturdy gust of wind swept in through the kitchen, flinging utensils and making us wrestle with the window and curtain. The din was soon forgotten, but the power began fluctuating. After a point, even as the wind howled outside, the electricity went out. Trees bent nearly in half, and one persistently slammed against our window, and as mentioned earlier, there were frequent sounds of things breaking.
Conversations with friends revealed that many were trying to deal with broken windows and rain flooding into their rooms. For those living in high-rise buildings, many narrated that their building were swaying in a rather terrifying manner. A report by PIB later explained that Kolkata (Dum Dum) had reported 130 kmph winds at 6:55 pm and Kolkata (Alipore) had witnessed 112 kmph winds at 5:52 on 20th May. The few times I ventured out onto the balcony, the strong wind threatened to disbalance me.
Visuals from my school (now shut for summer vacation) showed broken trees blocking the roads, solar panels ripped off the roof and lying on the ground, broken windows and awnings that had been ripped off by the force of the wind. The Indian Meteorological Department had been sending forth hourly bulletins, and said on Wednesday evening that at 6:30 pm the storm lay centered over West Bengal “near latitude 22.5N and longitude 88.4E, close to Kolkata”. A Google Map search reveals that that is less than 10 minutes away from my house!
It was rather fascinating, the way the storm stopped for a brief while before restarting. You see, I’ve never been in the eye of a Cyclone. A short period of absolute calm – which even saw people venturing out of their houses, was followed by yet another set of intense winds that let up roughly an hour later. At my house, power returned after midnight.
PS - The weather has since improved. We even caught a glimpse of a rainbow yesterday. And today, the sweltering heat is gradually returning.