24 killed, 110,000 affected as Cyclone Aila pounds coastal West Bengal (Third Lead)

May 26th, 2009 - 12:03 am ICT by IANS  

Kolkata, May 25 (IANS) Cyclone Aila battered coastal West Bengal as well as state capital Kolkata Monday as it unleashed storms that uprooted trees, electricity poles and thatched homes, leaving a trail of destruction in its wake, killing 24 people and affecting 110,000 others. The army was called in for rescue operations in the worst hit South 24 Parganas district.
Storms with a speed of 55 km per hour uprooted trees, with some smashing into buses, autos and cars - in around 50 places in Kolkata, and blocked major roads. The accompanying rains caused waterlogging in large parts of the city, while power supply remained erratic and several flights were cancelled.

Four people were killed and 15 injured in Kolkata due to the storm that paralysed normal life. The usually bustling city streets were deserted since noon, as the authorities stopped tram services and asked people not to venture outdoors till the evening.

There were reports of 14 deaths in South 24 Parganas district, five in Howrah and one in Bankura, official sources said. Altogether 80,000 people were rescued, said Finance Minister Asim Dasgupta.

Hooghly, East Midnapore, West Midnapore and North 24 Parganas also felt the fury of Aila.

However, in some good news to the city, the India Meteorological Department said the cyclonic storm would weaken gradually as it moves in a northerly direction.

A South 24 Parganas district official said 40,000 people have been rescued in Patharpratima, Kultali and Sagardigh blocks.

Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee said the army has been asked to conduct rescue operations in Sandeshkhali, part of the mangrove forests of Sundarbans - home of the endangered Royal Bengal Tiger. Bhattacharjee, who monitored the situation through the day at the secretariat, is scheduled to visit Nimpith in South 24 Parganas Tuesday to assess the damage.

Train services were severely disrupted with the railway suspending operations from Howrah for several hours since afternoon. A South Eastern Railway spokesman said fallen trees blocked tracks at four stations in the Kharagpur-Howrah section and several passenger trains got stranded for hours.

Train services were also affected in the south section of the Sealdah division of Eastern Railways.

Railways Minister Mamata Banerjee postponed her departure to Delhi and said the army has been asked to move in to areas like Gosaba, Patharpratima and Kultali in and around the Sundarbans delta in South Parganas district.

Banerjee, who spoke to union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee several times on the issue, said the situation was “very bad” in Pakhiraganj, which was under eight feet water.

The met office said all districts of south Bengal would be lashed by storm and rains till Tuesday morning.

The police in Kolkata kept boats ready for emergency evacuation of people from low-lying areas, while the Rapid Action Force and the Quick Response Team were also on alert.

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