Ananya Dutta

Death toll mounts to 78; relief works in full swing

KOLKATA: Three days after a cyclonic storm pounded it, West Bengal is still grappling with the devastation. The death toll rose to 78, even as relief and rescue operations were on in the affected areas on Wednesday. It is feared that the death toll may go up further with reports coming in from districts.

The number of people affected is around 4.6 million. Nearly 6 lakh homes have been destroyed. About 130 medical teams are providing aid to the afflicted, and Rs. 40 crore has been allotted for relief and rehabilitation. It is estimated that an additional Rs. 113 crore is needed just to repair damaged embankments.

Relief is yet to reach some of the worst-affected areas — mainly in South 24 Parganas district — where people are marooned.

Highway repaired

Contining landslides in the Darjeeling hills have so far claimed 26 lives. A few persons reported missing are feared trapped under the rubble. According to District Magistrate Surendra Gupta, National Highway 55, connecting Darjeeling with the rest of the State, has been repaired, but all other roads remain closed.

“A special fund has been released to the district administration and two teams of the Border Security Force’s National Disaster management force were rushed to Darjeeling,” said Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee. He lauded the rescue efforts of the Army in South and North 24 Parganas districts, and said there was a slight improvement in the situation in South Bengal with water receding from certain areas, although Patharpratima was still marooned.

Mamata’s poser

Trinamool Congress chief and Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee wondered why the State government “could not ensure restoration of power and water supply.” “Roads in many places are still strewn with fallen trees even three days after the disaster.”

There were protests in various localities in Kolkata, as the authorities failed to restore power supply and clear several roads of uprooted trees. “The protests were not by supporters of any particular party; they were an expression of the people’s anguish,” Ms. Banerjee said.

Mr. Bhattacharjee appealed to the residents to allow the workers to conduct speedy repairs and said he had directed officials of the CESC (Calcutta Electricity Supply Corporation) to increase the strength of the workers and engineers. “What is most important is to get the job done.”

Finance Minister Asim Dasgupta said the CESC and the West Bengal State Electricity Board had been given a deadline to restore power supply to all parts of the city.

Trinamool protest

Trinamool Counsellors staged demonstrations at the headquarters of the Kolkata Municipal Corporation in protest against the tardy restoration work.