Indian authorities say scores of people are believed to have been killed Wednesday when a powerful cyclone hit parts of eastern India and Bangladesh, leaving a trail of mass destruction and chaos.
Seventy-two people were killed as the cyclone, which sustained winds of up to 185 kilometers, devastated parts of eastern India, Mamata Banerjee, Chief Minister of West Bengal, told reporters Thursday. Wes Bengal state bore the brunt of the storm in India.
Banerjee said two districts suffered extensive damage and would need rebuilding. “Area after area has been ruined. I have experienced a war-like situation today," Banerjee said.
The cyclone also left a trail of devastation through the state’s densely populated capital, Kolkata, with rain and strong winds uprooting trees and electric poles, disrupting power supply, damaging buildings and leaving homes waterlogged in low lying areas.
“The impact of Amphan is worse than coronavirus,” Banerjee said, referring to the pandemic that has sickened and killed millions of people across the globe, including more than 110,000 people in India, according to the latest figures.
Amphan has been downgraded to a tropical depression but is still expected to drench parts of inland India and Bangladesh with heavy rains and floods, damaging some of the weaker houses and buildings.
Nearly 300,000 people were evacuated from West Bengal state and 150,000 from Odisha state, both in India.
The storm struck while South Asia struggles with the coronavirus pandemic.
The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) says the storm has put 19 million children at risk, not only from the direct effects of floods and wind damage, but from the potential spread of COVID-19 in crowded evacuation shelters.
“We continue to monitor the situation closely,” said Jean Gough, UNICEF regional director for South Asia. “The safety of children and their families in the areas that will be impacted is a priority and it is good to see that the authorities have planned their urgent response factoring in the on-going COVID-19 pandemic.”
Amphan is causing additional misery for the hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees living in camps in Bangladesh and Myanmar, which have already reported a number of COVID-19 cases.
U Khine Myo Aung, the manager of one camp in Kyauktaw Township in Myanmar’s Rakhine State, told VOA’s Burmese service that the tents in which the refugees are living provided little protection from the storm.
“The main challenge under the heavy rain for the refugee community is there's nowhere to sleep at night and [people are] moving here and there during daytime as well," he said. "Families with children squeeze in with neighbors who have a roof.”
The manager of another camp, Ko Shwe So, tells VOA it’s the children and elderly who suffer most.
“As camp manager, I would like to build proper accommodation for refugees, but no funds are available.”
In Bangladesh, where at least eight people are believed to have died, conditions were no better.
“It has been raining heavily in our camp since early in the morning," a Rohingya refugee who uses the name Islam told VOA Burmese on Wednesday.
She lives in the Balukhali camp in Cox's Bazar and said volunteers have been spreading warnings about Cyclone Amphan throughout the camps.
"Our fellow refugees are exchanging phone messages about floods and landslides that occurred in some other camps," the former schoolteacher said.
VOA Burmese Service stringers Zaw Htet and Thet Naing contributed to this report.