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Cyclone Amphan leaves millions homeless in India

Even five days after the disaster, villages remain cut off without transport, electricity and communications

Saji Thomas

Saji Thomas

Updated: May 26, 2020 05:18 AM GMT
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Cyclone Amphan leaves millions homeless in India

A village woman tries to salvage whatever is left in her house after Cyclone Amphoan destroyed it on May 20 at Bhogarai in Balasore district in Odisha state. Some 17,000 Catholics have lost their homes, crops and livestock in the disaster in West Bengal state. (Photo supplied)

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Thousands of Catholics are among 13 million people who have lost homes, crops and livestock after a powerful cyclone ravaged the eastern Indian coast.

Some 17,000 Catholics of Baruipur Diocese in West Bengal state were among the worst affected by Cyclone Amphan, which also killed 86 people in India after making landfall on May 20.

"Our people have practically lost everything," said Father Parimal Kanji, social work director of the diocese, which covers South 24 Parganas district, the worst-hit area in the state.

"We could restore phone communication only on May 25 morning, and until now we have been gathering information directly from people, and that was very limited," the priest told UCA News on May 25.

The cyclone has destroyed the houses, crops and livestock of people in at least 24 parishes. "Their churches are also damaged," Father Kanji said.

Of the 24 parishes, "10 are in the most affected coastal areas, and all of them suffered serious damage. The roof of a church was blown away," he said.
"These parishioners are poor people eking out a living mostly from fishing, farming and collecting honey and other produce from the forest." 

Their houses were reduced to mud in the rain and the storm, he added.

Some 300,000 fishermen have lost their fishing gear. They have now taken shelter in government relief camps and other safe places, the priest said.

West Bengal's government said the cyclone has affected 13 million people in nine districts in the state, which has 90 million people in 23 districts.

Even on the fifth day of the disaster, the state government had not yet restored water and electricity in several parts of Kolkata city, the state capital. Several villages continue without electricity and communication lines.

More than one million houses collapsed, crops covering 100,000 hectares were lost, and close to one million livestock died in the cyclone, hitting the poor's livelihoods, according to government data.

"That's just an initial estimate and the losses could be much more," said Father Kanji, who appealed to people to be generous in helping victims to restore their lives back to normal.

The Catholic Church's service arms, such as Catholic Relief Service and Caritas India, are working with local dioceses to provide immediate assistance to the cyclone's victims.

"We have started distributing food to at least 2,000 people in vulnerable localities," said Father Franklin Menezes, social work director of the Archdiocese of Kolkata based in the state capital.

"Many people in the city are starving and thirsty as they don't have drinking water after floods contaminated open wells and other water sources. Many have bore-wells but cannot pump for want of electricity," he told UCA News on May 25.

Archbishop Thomas D'Souza of Kolkata in a circular asked parish priests and other religious congregations to do "whatever is possible" within their capacity "to help the needy urgently."

Many churches, convents and other Catholic institutions in Kolkata suffered losses. 

"The diocese is trying to gather materials to augment its food delivery. We want to feed at least 10,000 people, increasing from the current number of 2,000," Father Menezes said.

The cyclone uprooted hundreds and thousands of trees and blocked roads. The government and church social workers are unable to reach interior villages, Father Menezes said.

"The situation is pathetic and it will take some time to restore normalcy," he added.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has announced a relief package of some US$142 million to the West Bengal government and US$71 million to neighboring Odisha state, which also suffered severe damage from the cyclone.

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