US, WASHINGTON (ORDO NEWS) — Sheltered under a bed with his wife and two children, Shafiqul Islam experienced three hours of unbearable waiting to pray that Cyclone Amphan would not blow their house and save them.
The 40-year-old farmer from the coastal district of Satkhira (southeast Bangladesh) believed that Amphan, the most powerful cyclone to form in the Bay of Bengal since the turn of the century, would pass by his city on Wednesday. He therefore did not go to take refuge in one of the thousands of shelters opened by the authorities.
A “huge mistake,” he told himself when, hiding inside his house, the elements were unleashed outside.
“The wind was so strong that we had the impression that it would flatten everything,” he told AFP, standing in the middle of the rubble of houses twisted by the violence of the cyclone.
Gusts and torrential rains washed away its corrugated iron roof and destroyed almost all of its assets. But he and his family were saved.
“Most of our neighbors’ houses have been torn down (…) We are on the brink of death.”
After sending their children to a high pressure shelter, Aleya Begum and her husband stayed behind to protect their four homes. But their efforts were in vain.
“Everything I have built over the decades has been destroyed in a matter of hours. I saw a number of cyclones. This one was the worst,” said the 65-year-old woman.
“Everything is lost,” she laments.
– “Indigent” –
The United Nations office in Bangladesh estimates that the cyclone affected 10 million people and destroyed the homes of 500,000 people. Amphan has also left at least 95 dead in India and Bangladesh, according to official reports still provisional on Thursday.
Despite considerable material damage, human losses appear to have been limited. Until recently, the results of the most violent cyclones could amount to thousands of deaths around the Bay of Bengal.
In 1970, half a million people died in Cyclone Bhola. The last particularly deadly cyclone, Sidr, killed 3,500 people in Bangladesh in 2007.
But this country and India have learned the lessons of the disasters of previous decades: they have built thousands of shelters for the population and implemented rapid evacuation policies. Weather monitoring systems are also more sophisticated.
As cyclone Amphan approached, the local authorities of these two South Asian nations thus sheltered more than three million people living in areas at risk.
Wind gusts of around 160 km / h and heavy rain were not the only dangers. Cyclones can also cause a storm surge, a wall of sea water sometimes several meters high, which can be particularly devastating when it sweeps over coastal areas.
In the Bangladeshi village of Purba Durgabati, hundreds of locals battled all night against the elements to try to shore up the seawall protecting them.
But the rise of the river, four meters in places, pulverized it for almost two kilometers and caused the flooding of 600 homes.
“My house is under water. My shrimp farm has disappeared. I don’t know how I’m going to survive,” says Omar Faruq, a 28-year-old villager.
This disaster comes at a time when India and Bangladesh have been confined since the end of March to fight the Covid-19 pandemic, a measure which has brought economic activity to an abrupt halt.
“The coronavirus had already struck people terribly. Now the cyclone has made them destitute,” said Bhabotosh Kumar Mondal, a city official from Buri Goalini, one of the most affected cities in Bangladesh.
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