Other States

Life comes to a halt in South 24 Paraganas

Selima Akhter Sekh returned to her house to discover that it was flattened by Amphan.

Selima Akhter Sekh returned to her house to discover that it was flattened by Amphan.   | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

Till late on Wednesday, Selima Akhter Sekh, a 55-year-old farmer, refused to leave her tin and bamboo thatched house.

Also read: 72 killed in Cyclone Amphan fury, 15 dead in Kolkata alone

But after the extended backside collapsed, she had to shift to a nearby school around 10 p.m., when Cyclone Amphan was at its worst. Slowly, the entire house and dozens of houses nearby collapsed. From the school, Ms. Sekh could hear the sound.

“It took us 10 years to buy this land and build the house, and a three-hour storm flattened it,” she said. Locals did not let Ms. Sekh wait, said Ajizul Sekh, a construction worker and one of her three sons. “We shifted and survived, but the house disappeared,” Mr. Sekh said.

His neighbour Ali Md. Sardar, a septuagenarian farmworker, decided to stay in his thatched two-room house, which also collapsed. “I was rescued on time,” said Mr. Sardar of Rajapur. The families have now shifted to a nearby school.

On Wednesday night, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said South and North 24 Paraganas were two of south Bengal’s “ruined” districts. Till Thursday evening, half of the 72 victims are from one of the two 24 Paraganas and 18 were from South 24.

Rajapur is a giant village in the Canning 1 block, in the east of South 24, considered gateway to the Sunderbans archipelago. The cyclone flattened nearly every house in this riverine district, made of mud, bamboo, tin or asbestos.

Further south towards the Basanti block, adjacent to the tributary of the river Matla, the scene is more catastrophic. On either side of the highway, water from giant fish ponds merged with tributaries of River Matla, inundating the villages. One such village is Simultala in Basanti. Water entered all houses on the western edge of Simultala, called Naukaghat. Hundreds of houses were under knee-deep water on Wednesday night. However, the water receded fast.

“We survived but at what cost,” asked Farida Sekh, a single mother of a 10-year-old son. Ms. Sekh works as a domestic help in six households at Kolkata’s Park Circus. “But only two of the households paid my salary; the rest said they could not because of the lockdown. I was supposed to resume work next week, but my house collapsed and I have nothing left to repair it,” said Ms. Sekh, who like others built the house recently. In Naukaghat, 500 families are mostly dependent on fishery. They dig ponds, maintain fish, buy from big pond owners and sell in retail markets.

“The cyclone inundated the banks of the ponds and damaged the riverine bunds. The fish moved to the bigger rivers like Matla or Bidyadhari, diving into the sea [the Bay of Bengal],” said Mannan Purakait, a successful road builder, who also invested in fishery. It was Mr. Purakait’s robust house, being constructed at Naukaghat, that sheltered hundreds of villagers on Wednesday night. Until Thursday night, no relief reached Simultala or Rajapur, about 100 km south of Kolkata.

Mr. Purakait said the real challenge would be to find work for the residents of Simultala as most of them go to Kolkata to work on construction sites or at households. “The jobs are disappearing after the novel coronavirus started spreading. Now, fish has disappeared. Very dark days ahead,” he said.

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Printable version | Aug 9, 2020 4:51:48 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/life-comes-to-a-halt-in-south-24-paraganas/article31643766.ece

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