People at a loss after Cyclone Amphan wreaks havoc on livelihoods

All dwellings in the fishermen village in East Midnapore district were ripped apart, barring a handful of concrete structures

Houses were completely destroyed due to cyclone Amphan in several coastal districts of West Bengal. Photo: Raka Mahapatra

When the dark storm was gathering over the sea barely 500 meters from his home in Duttapur in Digha on Wednesday (May 20), Sunil Tudu was hoping to be as lucky as he had been over a decade ago.

So, when a team of the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) came to evacuate him to the safety of the concrete-built Padima 1 cyclone centre, not too far from his house, the fisherman was reluctant to move in there with his family.

Over 24 hours later, he could not be thanking enough the rescue team for almost hauling him and his family members—wife and a daughter—to the relief centre.

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After the storm blew over, at the break of dawn on Thursday (May 21), he rushed to the village only to discover that almost all the bamboo huts, including his own, were flattened.

Related news | PM announces ₹1,500 crore interim relief for Amphan-hit Bengal, Odisha

The coastline was littered with battered and upturned boats.

The fishermen village in East Midnapore district, around 151 km from Kolkata, comprises 60 households. Barring a handful of concrete structures, all dwellings were ripped apart. The tin roofs of the pucca houses too were blown off.

The severe cyclonic storm Amphan, made the landfall at Digha at 2.30 pm on that ill-fated Wednesday. The mayhem continued in the area for five to six hours after that.

A house in Duttapur village, East Midnapore damaged due to cyclone Amphan. Photo: Raka Mahapatra

“Even during Aila in 2009, many houses in our village were damaged, but the magnitude of destruction then was not as extensive and furious as it was this time,” said Tudu, 44.

His house had then survived the wrath miraculously though its thatch roof was blown off. However, he was not so lucky this time.

Weather experts dub Amphan as the strongest cyclone to hit the state in centuries.

“None of us would have been alive today had we stayed back,” the fisherman said, pointing at the remnants of what was his home a day ago.

Related news | EU announces €500,000 initial fund for India to handle damage by Amphan

However, being alive is not enough. To sustain the family, Tudu needs to make a fresh start from scratch. The ongoing lockdown to evade the virus has already sunk his income, and now the cyclone has struck another deadly blow.

“We were barely surviving on morsels, unable to properly sell the fish we caught in the sea. Now the cyclone has even taken that away from us,” he said.

At least 25 fishing boats were lashed to pieces, leaving marginal fishermen such as Tudu with no source of livelihood.

“I have no idea how I will feed my nine-year-old daughter,” he asked, as they start rebuilding their house on Friday (May 22).

Proletariats such as Tudu rise again and again only to face a new challenge.

About 50 kilometres north of Duttapur, at Patashpur, Rishikesh Maiti, a 55-year-old farmer, wishes his flattened crops could also be brought back from the brink of destruction.

Amphan had destroyed the sunflower and paddy crops Rishikesh Maiti, a farmer, had cultivated. Photo: Raka Mahapatra

Taking a farm loan of Rs 1 lakh, he had cultivated sunflowers on one-and-half bigha of land. On another plot of around four bighas of land, he had standing paddy crops.

Amphan has ransacked them all, encumbering Maiti under the yoke of loans and an uncertain future.

“My entire family of seven depends on the seasonal earnings we make from these crops. This season, we will have no earnings due to this cyclone. Instead, we are left with a loan burden and also this additional expense of rebuilding my razed house,” the East Midnapore farmer added.

As an offset to the loss, Maiti said his two sons and he would have to look for other income avenues. However, he was not sure exactly what they would do. “Kichu to korte hobe eto dena hoye gelo (We have to do something to repay the loan),” he said.

There are many Tudus and Maitis in the cyclone ravaged East Midnapore district who are quietly trying to cope with the yet another blow they took on their chin. Under the government’s assessment of the damage caused by the cyclone, their stories are just statistics.

As per the preliminary count, six people died, 30 others were injured and over 30,000 houses were destroyed just in the East Midnapore district. It is among the seven most affected districts in the state.

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said overall six crore people were affected by the cyclone in the state.

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