Natural Disasters

Bulbul could have damaged Sundarbans more than Aila but for the low tides

High tide would have meant saline water inundating the delta area

 
By Jayanta Basu
Last Updated: Wednesday 13 November 2019
Sundarbans damage. Photo: Jayanta Basu

Cyclone Bulbul, which left a trail of destruction and lost lives in Odisha, West Bengal as well as Bangladesh, could have been even more devastating. A low tide at the time of the storm prevented the inundation of salt water, sources in the Bengal forest department said.

This saved animals in the Sundarbans forest, unlike during Cyclone Aila that struck the region a decade ago.

Bulbul reached a wind speed of 135 km per hour on the night of November 9-10, 2019. An estimated five-six million people were affected.

“The loss of human lives could be minimised as could evacuate nearly 1.75 lakh people,” Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said.

“Thousands of mud houses fell, almost all the paddy is lost; some 6,000 electric posts were damaged. This is an initial estimate; I have asked all departments to form a task force under the district magistrate for a detailed survey,” said after an aerial survey of western Sunderbans in South 24 Parganas district.

She is slated to similar surveys in other areas. The administration has been asked to provide for basic necessities such as electricity and drinking water as soon as possible and repair damaged roads.

Sundarban affair minister and Kakdip legislator Manturam Pakhira reiterated that many mud houses were damaged.

North and South 24 Parganas were hit the hardest. East Midnapore also suffered significantly.

Bulbul was speedier than Aila (120 kmph). Also, it moved horizontally across the entire Sunderbans after landfall near Sagar island at its western end. Aila mostly hit eastern Sunderbans before moving north towards Kolkata and beyond, said GK Das, director of India Meteorological Department’s Kolkata regional office.

The delta area dotted with islands, known globally for its biodiversity, had a good turn as low tides set in around around 11 pm and continued until 3 am, he added. Bunds — mud embankments — were breached only in Gobordhonpur of Patharpratima block.

“Loss of life could be minimised but Sunderban’s economy has been severely affected. Agriculture and fishery — the two major livelihood generators — have been severely affected,” a senior government official said.

Dry fish worth at least Rs 5 crore was reportedly damaged in Frasergunj and Sagar areas.

“We are yet to get the full figure. Primary assessments indicate 10,000 mud houses were damaged in Sagar and another 3,000 in adjoining islands,” Bankim Hazra , chairman of Gangasagar Bakkhali Development Authority (GBDA), said.

Though the storm lost its bite, but eastern Sundarbans was ravaged by then, said Sugata Hazra, an oceanographer at Jadavpur University.

All islands from Bali to Kumirmari — the last Indian one before Bangladesh Sunderbnans start — were severely affected, Gosaba legislator Jayanta Naskar said.

The cyclone went through core forest area. But animals weren’t hurt much as the forests were not inundated, thanks to the low tide, said Ravikant Sinha, the state’s principal chief conservator of forest (wild life). 

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