Kolkata: A cyclone hit West Bengal on Monday killing at least nine people and forcing an estimated 80,000 people to leave their homes for safety, officials said.
Authorities warned people in state capital Kolkata to stay indoors as cyclone Aila advanced towards the city of 12 million with winds up to 100 kph (60 mph).
Heavy rains triggered by the storm raised river levels and burst mud embankments in West Bengal’s Sundarbans Tiger Reserve, which holds thousands of people as well as the world’s biggest tiger reserve.
Also Read Cyclone Aila paralyzes Kolkata airport
“The situation is very grave, countless families have been displaced, especially in the Sundarbans,” said Kanti Ganguly, state minister for the Sundarbans.
Authorities in neighbouring Bangladesh also evacuated thousands of people, mostly in Khulna district near the Sundarbans, to makeshift shelters as tidal waves triggered by the storm in the Bay of Bengal damaged thousands of houses.
The cyclone lay about 50 km (30 miles) south of Kolkata and was expected to hit the city by late afternoon, authorities said.
Heavy rains caused flooding in the streets of the state capital as strong winds uprooted trees and communication lines. Television pictures showed rescue workers struggling to bring out a man trapped in his car.
Four people died in Kolkata in house collapses while five other deaths were reported from other parts of the state.
Tourists were asked to stay in their hotels in West Bengal’s southern coastal resort of Digha, four hours drive from Kolkata.
“We have reports of sea surge in Digha and Sankarpur (another resort). We have reports of house damage as well,” C.G Lama, a senior government official said.
The storm surge washed away dozens of shrimp farms and inundated rice fields in Bangladesh which is battered by storms every year.
The Bangladesh Meteorology Department said the ports at Chittagong, Mongla and Cox’s Bazar should keep storm warnings in place until further notice with cyclone Aila racing towards the coast.
In November 2007, cyclone Sidr ravaged a large part of the country’s coast, killing nearly 3,500 people and displacing around two million.