KOLKATA/DHAKA: Peering down from his aircraft, Prime Minister Narendra Modi saw on Friday (May 22) the devastation and flooding caused by the most powerful cyclone to strike India and Bangladesh in more than a decade, before landing in the stricken city of Kolkata.
At least 96 people died in the two countries when cyclone Amphan swept in from the Bay of Bengal on Wednesday most of them in the eastern Indian state of West Bengal.
The toll is expected to rise as communications are restored and authorities reach villages cut off by blocked and submerged roads, but the evacuation of about three million people before the cyclone struck undoubtedly reduced the number of deaths.
Modi has promised to leave no stone unturned to get West Bengal back on its feet, as the state counts the cost of rebuilding infrastructure and homes, and supporting farmers whose crops and livestock were destroyed by Amphan.
Wearing a face mask as he stepped onto tarmac at the airport in Kolkata, Modi was greeted by the state's Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and other officials, all wearing masks.
Kolkata's deputy mayor Atin Ghosh told Reuters "the city is still in a state of shock."
"Municipal teams, civil defence personnel, police personnel have been working overtime to restore road connectivity first. But there is an acute shortage of manpower due to coronavirus related restrictions," Ghosh said.
"Private buses and trains are still not in service. We really need citizens of Kolkata to come forward and lend a helping hand in whatever way possible.”
On Friday, police were using drones to assess the damage in Kolkata, a city of 14 million, where an estimated 10,000 trees fell during a storm that lasted several hours.
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Reuters Television footage showed some streets strewn with uprooted trees and broken branches, while torn power lines lay amid pools of stagnant water. At least a dozen people died in the city during the storm, most of them either electrocuted or crushed beneath collapsed walls.
"It is complete devastation. First it was COVID-19 that drained our resources and now this," Banerjee told a news conference late on Thursday.
"One has to see to believe the magnitude of devastation in North and South Parganas, Sundarbans and in Kolkata.
"Most of the affected parts are still not accessible by road or through communication channels. It will take several days before we get on the ground reports from interior areas."