West Bengal cyclone death toll reaches 82, rescue operations on (Second Lead)

May 26th, 2009 - 11:55 pm ICT by IANS  

Kolkata, May 26 (IANS) A day after Cyclone Aila battered coastal West Bengal, especially 24 Parganas, uprooting trees, snapping power cables and leaving a trail of destruction in its wake, rescue operations were on in full swing Tuesday with the army also moving in to help, as the death toll mounted to 82.
The cyclone that also affected more than 400,000 people has begun to weaken and move off.

Twenty-two people have died due to heavy landsliding in Darjeeling, while as in North 24 Pargana 16 were killed in the storms.

Fifteen deaths were reported from South 24 Pargana and nine in Kolkata. Seven people lost their lives in Howrah, five in Hooghly, three in Murshidabad, two in Birbhum and one each in Malda, East Midnapore and Bakura.

The state government carried out rescue operations in Kolkata’s neighbouring South 24 Parganas district where the cyclone and the accompanying heavy rains inundated large swathes of land and left thousands homeless.

Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee visited many of the affected islands in the Sundarbans delta and held meetings with the district administration and police officials at Jamtala and Nimpith villages to chalk out plans for the rescue operation.

“Over four lakh people are affected due to yesterday’s (Monday) Cyclone Aila. I have told my officers to provide dry food to all the cyclone victims. The Sundarbans development authority has started rescue operations in different parts of the district,” Bhattacharjee told reporters after a meeting with Sundarban Affairs Minister Kanti Ganguly and senior district officials at Jamtala.

He said the army had been called for carrying out rescue operations in different parts of the Sundarbans Islands. “We’ll also seek the army’s help to reach assistance to Pathapratima, Gosaba and Basanti Island,” he said.

Addressing hundreds of homeless villagers at a temporary camp, he assured them that the state government would provide compensation within next two days.

“Thousands of pouches of drinking water have been distributed among the cyclone victims and the state government has also opened several community kitchens across Sundarbans region,” Bhattacharjee added.

According to the Alipur Met office, Cyclone Aila has weakened and was now heading in the northern direction. “The cyclone is passing through the northern districts of West Bengal,” a Met official told IANS.

“The north Bengal districts are likely to witness medium to heavy rain over the next day,” he said.

According to sources at the defence ministry’s Eastern Command, two columns of army, each consisting of 100 personnel, have been sent to the Sundarbans for carrying out relief operations. Air dropping of food packets was also carried out in the district.

Meanwhile, Railways Minister Mamata Banerjee visited parts of the Kakdeep Island in the Sundarbans. She travelled to the area by train after formally taking over charge as the railways minister here - instead of New Delhi.

Train services were largely hit in both Eastern Railway (ER) and South Eastern Railway (SER). A number of long-distance and local trains were cancelled in the aftermath of the cyclone that uprooted trees that blocked rail tracks in many places.

Telephone and mobile networks, ATMs, broadband services and the cable television network were also hit across Kolkata and its adjoining districts after Monday’s devastation.

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