KOLKATA/DHAKA • India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi, peering down from his aircraft yesterday, saw the devastation and flooding caused by the most powerful cyclone to strike the country and its neighbour Bangladesh in more than a decade, before he landed in the stricken city of Kolkata.
Cyclone Amphan killed at least 96 people in the two countries after it swept in from the Bay of Bengal on Wednesday. Most of those who died were in the eastern Indian state of West Bengal.
The toll is expected to rise as communications are restored and the authorities reach villages cut off by blocked roads.
But the evacuation of about three million people before the cyclone struck undoubtedly reduced the number of casualties.
Mr Modi said the country stood with the people of West Bengal and announced emergency aid of 10 billion rupees (S$188 million) to help the state at a time when it and the rest of India are dealing with the coronavirus outbreak.
"Dealing with the pandemic requires social distancing whereas battling the cyclone requires people to move to safer areas," Mr Modi said at a school during a stop on a tour to inspect the damage.
"Despite this, West Bengal is fighting well. We are all with West Bengal in these adverse times."
Mr Modi wore a mask as he stepped onto the tarmac at the airport in Kolkata earlier and was greeted by the state's Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and other officials, all wearing masks.
Police are using drones to assess the damage in Kolkata, a city of 14 million people, where an estimated 10,000 trees were brought down during the storm that lasted several hours and led to extensive flooding.
"The city is still in a state of shock," Mr Atin Ghosh, Kolkata's deputy mayor, told Reuters.
"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," Mr 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," he added.
Reuters Television footage showed some streets strewn with uprooted trees, while torn power lines lay amid pools of stagnant water. At least a dozen people were killed in the city, most of them either electrocuted or crushed by collapsed walls.
"It is complete devastation. First it was Covid-19 that drained our resources and now this," Ms Banerjee told a news conference late on Thursday.
Cyclone Amphan unleashed torrential rain and storm surges in low-lying coastal areas that burst embankments protecting villages in the Ganges delta.
Powerful winds, with speeds gusting up to 185kph, wrecked mud-walled houses.
Amphan originally started as a super cyclone with wind speeds reaching more than 230kph, the equivalent of a category 5 hurricane, but it weakened after making landfall into a very severe cyclone as it moved inland through Bangladesh.
Initial estimates from the Bangladesh government put the damage to infrastructure, housing, fisheries and livestock, water resources and agriculture at about 11 billion taka (S$180 million).
"Some 1,100km of road, 200 bridges and 150km of dams in coastal districts have been damaged," said Mr Enamur Rahman, the country's junior minister for disaster management and relief.