LONDON -- At least 72 people have died and hundreds of thousands more displaced by a cyclone battering India and Bangladesh.
Cyclone Amphan, carrying strong rain and winds of up to 118 mph, made landfall on Wednesday evening, leaving a "trail of devastation" in India's northeast, Chief Minister of West Bengal, Mamata Bannerjee, said.
The majority of the casualties were killed by falling trees and electrocution, as the cyclone upended buildings and caused flooding across swathes of Kolkata, the state's capital, with a population of 14 million, and across the northeast. So far, 500,000 people in West Bengal and 200,000 people in the neighboring state of Odisha have been evacuated from their homes and placed into shelters, according to the National Disaster Response Force.
The local authorities have said that parts of West Bengal need help to "rebuild those areas from scratch," and the damage caused by the cyclone is worse than the coronavirus pandemic, Bannerjee said.
"My thoughts are with the people of Odisha as the state bravely battles the effects of Cyclone Amphan," Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in a statement. "Authorities are working on the ground to ensure all possible assistance to those affected. I pray that the situation normalizes at the earliest."
"No stone will be left unturned in helping the affected," he added.
In neighboring Bangladesh, Cyclone Amphan has caused an estimated $1.5 billion worth of damage, with at least fifteen people reportedly killed, according to the Dhaka Tribune.
The cyclone is still forecast to travel to the Indian state of Assam, although the damage there is expected to be nowhere near the extent seen in West Bengal.
Eight NDRF teams have been despatched to the region to assist with evacuation and restoration efforts. It will be a "massive challenge" to carry out restoration work in the context of the ongoing threat of the novel coronavirus, the director of the NDRF said.
Kolkata Airport, where the NDRF teams are expected to arrive this evening, is expected to be functional by the end of the day, although the true extent of the damage is still being assessed.
Cyclone Amphan is the most powerful of its kind to hit the region in over two decades. In 1999, a super cyclone hit Odissha, killing at least 9,887 people.