KOLKATA/DHAKA (Reuters) – Several thousand people have been left homeless after the most powerful cyclone in more than a decade hit India and Bangladesh this week, officials said, as Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited the area on Friday and pledged aid.
Cyclone Amphan killed at least 96 people, officials said after it swept in from the Bay of Bengal on Wednesday. Eighty fatalities were in the eastern Indian state of West Bengal and 16 were in neighbouring Bangladesh, after winds of up to 185 km per hour (115 mph) caused flooding, blew away roofs, uprooted trees and ripped up power lines.
“The federal and state government tried everything we could to minimise the damage from the cyclone. Still, we weren’t able to save the lives of around 80 people,” Prime Minister Modi told reporters on Friday at a school in the West Bengal town of Basirhat during a stop on a tour to inspect the damage.
He said India stood with the people of the affected region and announced emergency aid of 10 billion rupees ($132 million) to help West Bengal state, which is also dealing with the coronavirus epidemic.
Modi was flown over the area, surveying vast tracts of land under water, while in Kolkata, capital of West Bengal, police used drones to assess the damage from Amphan, which killed at least 19 people in the city.
The total death toll is expected to rise as communications are restored and authorities reach villages cut off by blocked roads, particularly in India’s low-lying Sundarbans delta, home to 4 million people and thick mangrove forests that are a critical tiger habitat.
In the Sundarbans’ Gosaba, an administrative area of the river delta that juts into the sea, the storm completely destroyed around 26,000 homes and damaged another 14,000, local disaster management official Pradip Kumar Dalui said.
The cyclone also damaged some 19 kilometres of embankments around Gosaba, causing 13 breaches that led salty water to inundate swathes of land, he said.
“The most urgent problem is the embankments. If they aren’t fixed, we won’t be able to save the Sundarbans,” Dalui told Reuters by phone.
Sankar Halder, who runs a non-profit organisation that supports issues such as health and education in the Sundarbans, said that without temporary shelters thousands of homeless would be completely exposed to monsoon rains that will arrive in a few weeks.
The crisis could be compounded by the ongoing coronavirus outbreak as many returning migrant workers had been quarantined at home but are now forced to mix with the rest of the population, he said.
“We don’t know the scale of the disaster that awaits us,” Halder said.
Modi, along with West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee and other officials, surveyed parts of the state from an air force helicopter, looking down on acre upon acre of land swamped with flood waters, according to footage from Reuters partner ANI.
“Despite this, West Bengal is fighting well. We are all with West Bengal in these adverse times,” Modi told reporters at the school in Basirhat.
In Kolkata, an estimated 10,000 trees were brought down during the storm that lasted several hours and brought extensive flooding, officials said.
“The city is still in a state of shock,” said Kolkata’s deputy mayor Atin Ghosh, adding that municipal teams, civil defence personnel, police personnel have been working overtime to restore road connectivity.
“But there is an acute shortage of manpower due to coronavirus-related restrictions,” Ghosh said, referring to a nationwide lockdown to curb the spread of the virus.
Initial estimates from the Bangladesh government put the damage to infrastructure, housing, fisheries and livestock, water resources and agriculture at about 11 billion taka ($130 million).
“Some 1,100 km of road, 200 bridges and 150 km of dams in coastal districts have been damaged,” said Enamur Rahman, junior minister for disaster management and relief.
Crops have been damaged over an area of 176,000 hectares, Agriculture Minister Abdur Razzaque said, while the electricity authority was scrambling to restore power to some 10 million people.
“It has left a trail of destruction,” said Rahman.
(This story corrects spelling of Amphan in headline and paragraph 5)
Additional reporting by Devjyot Ghoshal and Nigam Prusty in New Delhi, Jatindra Dash in Bhubaneshwar; Writing by Sanjeev Miglani and Devjyot Ghoshal; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore, Robert Birsel, Susan Fenton
Indonesia reports biggest daily rise in coronavirus infections
FILE PHOTO: Medical staff wearing protective suits take a rest at an emergency room amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Pekanbaru, Riau Province, Indonesia, June 5, 2020, in this photo taken by Antara Foto. Antara Foto/FB Anggoro/ via REUTERS
JAKARTA (Reuters) – Indonesia reported on Saturday its biggest daily rise in coronavirus infections, with 993 new cases, taking its total number to 30,514, a health ministry official said.
The official, Achmad Yurianto, reported 31 new deaths related to COVID-19, taking the total number of deaths in Indonesia to 1,801.
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India overtakes Italy’s coronavirus tally as lockdown easing looms
MUMBAI (Reuters) – India reported a record 9,887 new coronavirus cases in one day on Saturday and overtook Italy as the world’s sixth-biggest outbreak, two days before the relaxing of a lockdown with the reopening of malls, restaurants and places of worship.
FILE PHOTO: A man carries his son as he stands with others in a queue at a Railway reservation ticket counter after a few restrictions were lifted during an extended nationwide lockdown to slow the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in New Delhi, India, June 1, 2020. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi
With its total number of cases rising to more than 236,000, India now has fewer infections than only the United States, Brazil, Russia, Britain and Spain, according to a Reuters tally.
However, India’s toll of deaths from COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, is 6,642, small compared with those other countries.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government, anxious to jump-start an economy crippled by the epidemic and put millions of people back to work, is easing its lockdown of the 1.3 billion population imposed in March, which the government says helped avoid an exponential rise in cases.
Restrictions will be loosened from Monday but some experts are worried it is too soon.
Giridhar R Babu, epidemiologist at the Public Health Foundation of India, in particular questioned the re-opening of religious places.
“We can survive and sustain the gains without … opening up religious places for sometime,” Babu said on Twitter.
Concerts, sporting events and political rallies are still banned.
The World Health Organization (WHO) said late on Friday India’s lockdown had helped it dampen down transmission of the disease, but there was a risk the cases could rise again.
“As India and in other large countries open up and people begin to move there is always a risk of the disease bouncing back up,” Dr Mike Ryan, head of WHO’s emergencies programme, told a news conference in Geneva.
People visiting places of worship will be asked to wash their hands and feet, and there will be no distribution of food offerings, sprinkling of holy water or touching of idols and holy books.
Reporting by Rajendra Jadhav; Additional reporting by Stephanie Nebehay in GENEVA; Editing by Aditya Kalra, Robert Birsel
Russia reports 8,855 new coronavirus cases, 197 deaths in last 24 hours
A woman wearing a protective face mask and gloves walks through a disinfection cabin placed at the entrance of the Evropeyskiy shopping mall, after it was reopened as part of a phase of lifting the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) restrictions in Moscow, Russia June 5, 2020. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov
MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia reported 8,855 new cases of the novel coronavirus on Saturday, pushing the total number of infections to 458,689.
Officials said 197 people had died in the last 24 hours, bringing the official nationwide death toll to 5,725.
Reporting by Gleb Stolyarov and Maxim Rodionov, writing by Andrey Ostroukh, editing by Mark Potter
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