A sudden, violent tropical storm mauled east Bihar late on Tuesday night, killing 77 people, besides rendering thousands homeless.

Government sources said the Nor'wester, which also ripped through the North Dinajpur district in West Bengal killing 39 people there, severely hit Purnia, Araria, Katihar, Kishanganj and Supaul districts of eastern Bihar around 11 p.m. on Tuesday. According to PTI reports, four persons were killed in Dhubri district of Assam.

While officials indicated that they expected the death toll to rise due to people being buried under the debris, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar said 54 people were reported to have lost their lives in the storm, which lasted about an hour.

However, latest reports gathered from the affected districts place the toll at 77, with Purnia recording the highest number of casualties (33), followed by Araria (33), Katihar (7) and two each in Kishanganj and Supaul.

Though the exact number of people rendered homeless is yet to be ascertained, authorities said the figure could run into thousands as a majority of the population in these districts resided in houses which had asbestos roof.

While unconfirmed reports stated destruction of crops in Purnia district, officials said operations were on to ascertain human casualties. Speaking to The Hindu, Purnia District Magistrate N. Shravan Kumar said the storm rendered more than 500 people homeless in the district.

The sheer ferocity of the storm caused a significant portion of the jail wall to collapse in Araria district. Six hundred odd jail inmates were transferred to the Purnia jail.

Speaking to journalists after an aerial survey of east Bihar, the Chief Minister expressed his condolences and announced an ex gratia payment of Rs.1.5 lakh for the kith and kin of the deceased.

Mr. Kumar said the administrations of the storm-affected districts had been directed to start relief operations immediately on a war-footing.

“I have already directed district officials to begin relief operations. The government will give full assistance to the families of the deceased,” he said. In addition, the affected people were also being given one quintal rice, Rs.250, and asbestos sheets to rebuild their dwellings.

Kolkata Staff Reporter writes:

At least 39 people were killed and over 100 injured when the storm wreaked havoc in North Dinajpur district of West Bengal. It is feared that the death toll may rise as reports from many remote villages are not available yet.

The Nor'wester that struck the region with a wind speed of over 120 km an hour lasted half an hour, devastating four blocks of the district and affecting more than a lakh families.

Although no alert for a storm of such magnitude was given by the Regional Meteorological Department on Tuesday, rain or thunderstorms had been predicted for the next 24 hours.

“It was a tornado that struck the region, and no warnings are given for tornadoes,” said G.C. Debnath, director of the weather section of the Department.

Huts and shanties were crushed under trees uprooted by the fierce winds. As the storm struck late in the night, several victims were asleep in their homes when their roofs caved in on them.

Several roads, including National Highway 34, were blocked by trees, impeding rescue operations. Telephone and power lines snapped, resulting in a blackout in the affected areas.

It will take about 48 to 72 hours to restore power in the affected areas, District Magistrate Ramanuj Chakrabarti told The Hindu over telephone.

“The storm also took its toll on the Kulik Bird Sanctuary [at Raiganj], but we are still assessing the extent of the damage. Fortunately, migratory birds have not yet come to the sanctuary and no birds were killed,” said Divisional Forest Officer of Raiganj Asit Sen.

The Centre has enquired about the devastation and expressed its willingness to assist the State government, Chief Secretary Ashok Mohan Chakraborty told journalists at the Secretariat.

The State government has released Rs.5 lakh, a metric ton of rice and 30,000 tarpaulin sheets as relief for the victims, he added.

In a written statement, Chairman of the West Bengal State Committee of the Left Front, Biman Bose, requested people to stand by the victims, irrespective of party affiliation, and aid the relief and rescue operations.