Villagers salvage items from their house damaged by cyclone Amphan in Midnapore, West Bengal, on May 21, 2020. – The strongest cyclone in decades slammed into Bangladesh and eastern India on May 20, sending water surging inland and leaving a trail of destruction as the death toll rose to at least nine. (Photo by Dibyangshu SARKAR / AFP) (Photo by DIBYANGSHU SARKAR/AFP via Getty Images)
Shafiqul Islam hid under a bed with his wife and two children for hours as the fiercest cyclone to hit Bangladesh this century ripped the tin roof off his home.
Islam had thought he could ride out Cyclone Amphan but soon regretted his “huge mistake” as winds of 150 kilometres (95 mile) per hour slammed into Satkhira district, destroying his home and those of his neighbours.
“The wind was so powerful that it felt like it would flatten everything,” the 40-year-old farm labourer told AFP on Thursday, standing in the twisted wreckage.
“It destroyed everything we had. I don’t know how I am going to survive. Thanks to Allah that it did not kill me or my family. We came very close to death.”
After sending their children to a shelter, Aleya Begum and her husband stayed behind to protect their four properties.
Their efforts were in vain.
“All I have built over the decades have been destroyed in a few hours. I have witnessed quite a few cyclones. This was the worst,” said Begum, 65.
“Everything is gone.”
– ‘Paupers’ – Village after village was flattened in Satkhira, which bore the brunt of the first “super cyclone” recorded in the Bay of Bengal since 1999.
Better forecasting and the swift action of authorities to move 2.4 million people into shelters helped keep the death toll at 12 in Bangladesh — a fraction of the human cost in previous cyclones.
In 1970, half a million people perished in a cyclone. Another in 2007 killed 3,500.
But the powerful winds of Amphan and accompanying wall of sea water that rushed inland still had a punishing impact.
In Purba Durgabati, hundreds of locals battled through the night in the howling wind and teeming rain to mend a breach in a river embankment protecting the village and several others.
But the river rose by four metres (13 feet) in places and washed away around two kilometres (over a mile) of the levee, which doubled as a road, inundating 600 houses.
“My home is under the water. My shrimp farm is gone. I don’t know how I am going to survive,” Omar Faruq, 28, told AFP.
Modhusadan Mondol, who usually sells shrimps to Japan, said the coronavirus had brought one of Bangladesh’s biggest export industries to a halt.
He had hoped to resume shipments once the lockdown was lifted.
“But the cyclone washed away my shrimp farm and thousands of other farms. We lost everything,” said Mondol, estimating his losses at tens of thousands of dollars.
Bhabotosh Kumar Mondal, a local councillor, said the cyclone had “left an unprecedented trail of devastation”, with seven villages in his area under water and 2,000 mud and tin homes destroyed.
“The coronavirus has already taken a toll on people. Now the cyclone has made them paupers,” he said.
Mondal estimated that about 3,000 shrimp and crab farms had been washed away or suffered major damage, causing losses of more than $20 million.
“It destroyed our only means to survive,” he said.