The door to nowhere
A woman holds on to the door of her house razed by the tornado in North Dinajpur. Nature’s 30-minute Tandava in the dead of night left a trail of destruction along its path, with at least 72 dead and 200 injured in North Bengal and east Bihar. The toll from a tornado that whipped up wind speeds ranging from 80 to 125kmph is likely to go up as information trickles in from areas cut off after communication lines snapped. The tornado ripped through nearly 100,000 homes in Bengal’s North Dinajpur and Jalpaiguri districts and Bihar’s Araria, Kishanganj, Supaul and Purnia. “From evidences like twisted trees and poles, the depth of the thundercloud and the volume of devastation, the storm appears to be a tornado,” said G C Debnath, director, Regional Meteorological Centre. In North Dinajpur alone, 38 deaths were reported from four blocks that bore the brunt of the storm’s fury. Additional district magistrate P K Dutta said 18 deaths occurred in Karandighi block and eight in Raiganj. Three more died in Hemtabad and two in Kaliaganj. Most of the deaths were caused by houses collapsing. The police barracks in Raiganj was flattened. “The casualties were high because the storm struck when people had retired for the night and were caught unawares,” Dutta said. Healthcare facilities in the districts are under tremendous strain with hundreds of injured pouring in at centres meant to treat a dozen. Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee is keeping track of rescue operations and has been constantly on the phone coordinating with officials, chief secretary Asok Mohan Chakrabarti said. In Bihar’s Purnia, Araria, Kishanganj and Katihar districts, at least 69 people were killed and 125 injured as the storm ripped apart homes and hurtled people to death. Many died when the storm turned tin roofs into deadly missiles, slicing through people who fell in their path. The Araria district jail’s 50-foot-high wall also caved in. “We are shifting the 650 inmates of Araria jail to Purnia jail,” a jail official said. The worst-hit was Araria, where officials put the death toll at 33.Uprooted trees blocked National Highway 34, stranding traffic for hours. Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar announced an ex-gratia payment of Rs 1.5 lakh to next of kin of the deceased besides ordering construction of pucca houses under Indira Awas Yojana.