What's Happening?



“…and behind them a desolate wilderness; yea, and nothing shall escape them.”

Joel 2:3 

Perilous Times and Climate Change

Relief workers battle against the destruction in tornado-hit India

by Staff Writers
Rampur, India (AFP) April 15, 2010

Indian aid workers battled blocked roads and downed power lines Thursday as they rushed aid to victims of a giant tornado that ravaged hundreds of thousands of homes and killed 131 people.

In West Bengal state, 250,000 people were made homeless by the twister, which packed winds of up to 120 kilometres (75 miles) an hour as it tore across isolated rural areas of northeast India and Bangladesh overnight Tuesday.

"We are facing a crisis in the relief operation. There is a shortage of manpower to distribute rice and medical aid among the victims," West Bengal minister for civil defence Srikumar Mukherji told AFP.

Uprooted trees blocking roads and broken electricity linesslowed attempts to deliver shelter and food, with officials admitting that frustration was growing among the destitute.

"We know homeless people in the affected areas are aggrieved as relief is reaching them late," West Bengal relief minister Mortaza Hossain told AFP by telephone in state capital Kolkata.

The storm, which brought torrential rain and high winds over a wide area, also killed thousands of cattle and ruined summer crops in several northeastern states, where most struggle to eke out a living as subsistence farmers.

Indian state officials said a total of 129 people had been killed, with new victims reported Thursday in West Bengal, Bihar state and northeastern Meghalaya. Two others lost their lives in neighbouring Bangladesh.

In Rampur village, 200 miles (320 kilometres) north of Kolkata, the roof of every house had collapsed or been blown away. Thousands of stranded people were taking shelter in schools and temples.

Food aid in the form of rice and dried fruit was beginning to arrive as well as tarpaulins and plastic sheets, though distribution efforts were still not reaching most of the victims.

In the neighbouring storm-hit state of Bihar, the local government has asked for federal assistance, saying 100,000 homes had been damaged or destroyed and 10,000 cattle killed.

Witnesses to the destructive power of the storm described their terror as the winds and rain struck around midnight Tuesday.

"The thatched roof fell on our head and then after two minutes the entire house fell on us," said Ratan Burman, a 45-year-old farmer, who lost his wife in the disaster.

"I managed to get out and pull my two sons out, but I was unable to save my wife."

A local weather office official said part of the storm had a "twister effect with the shape of an elephant trunk," which had formed out of 18-kilometre (11-mile) thick thunderclouds.

A long heatwave in the area "could have been a catalyst in the unusual thundercloud formation that triggered the tornado," said the director of the regional weather office in West Bengal state, Gokul Chandra Debnath.

A tornado forms within a very short time, unlike the cyclones that occur frequently in the area, which meant the weather office had been unable to issue a warning, he said.

Most deaths were in Bihar, where 81 people lost their lives. Forty-three were killed in West Bengal, four in northern Assam and one in northeastern Meghalaya.

"We are trying to provide relief to all victims," a district magistrate in the badly hit Purnia area of Bihar, N. Sarvan Kumar, told AFP by phone.

"Thousands of hamlets made up of thatch and thin steel sheets have been blown away. Mud huts and small houses were completely destroyed," he said.

The cyclone came amid unseasonably high temperatures across much of northern India, where the mercury is already above 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) in many areas.