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The Aftermath Of Cyclone Amphan That Hit Coastal India And Bangladesh


The most powerful cyclone in more than a decade hit eastern India and Bangladesh yesterday. Cyclone Amphan flooded cities and killed at least 80 people. Both countries are still under lockdown because of the coronavirus. Even so, millions of people tried to evacuate. The Indian city of Kolkata was directly in the path of the storm, and that's where we have reached journalist and writer Sandip Roy.

Welcome. And I'm glad you're safe.

SANDIP ROY: Thank you - a little soggy, but in one piece.

SHAPIRO: What was it like to live through the storm yesterday as it passed through?

ROY: The wind was about a hundred miles per hour. It was like a wall of water rushing at you. And there was glass shattering everywhere - just this relentless sound of water run and trees going shush-shush all the time. And then later, we saw pictures of electric transformers bursting into flames as wires fell. And we woke up in the morning, and we saw, basically, behind us all the mango trees had fallen and - since they were - but you know, life goes on. People were out on the streets scavenging for fallen mangoes.

SHAPIRO: Wow. On its way to Kolkata, the storm passed through a region called the Sundarbans, which is this tiger habitat of mangrove islands spanning India and Bangladesh. Many people who live there are poor subsistence fishermen. Do you know how that region came through?

ROY: As you know, in that area has already been deeply affected by climate change. The sea has been rising about 3 centimeters a year for the past two decades. What they are seeing right now is that much of the - a lot of the nylon fencing that had been put there to separate the tigers from the human habitation areas has been damaged. So they're afraid that tigers driven by the cyclone and the rising waters might be starting to come into the human habitation area. So they - there are teams out there with tranquilizer guns.

They think the mangroves have definitely taken a beating. I mean, the mangrove cover has been diminishing over the years, but it is the reason that Kolkata as a city inland is protected from the severity of the cyclonic storms that are becoming most severe in the Bay of Bengal. The mangrove is our wall - our Hadrian's Wall, as it were.

SHAPIRO: Tell us about the evacuation. I understand at least 2.5 million people left ahead of the storm to get out of its path. But how do you do that in a time of social distancing when the country is on lockdown because of the pandemic?

ROY: It is very difficult. And basically, I will have to say that a lot of them - you know, they decided that the odds of beings pulverized by a cyclone were so much higher right now than the chance of getting corona that they had to choose the lesser of two evils.

SHAPIRO: Yeah. This area has been so heavily affected by climate change already. I mean, tens of thousands of people in the region have had to relocate their homes because of rising seas. And now comes the worst storm in a decade. Is there a sense that this may be a glimpse of the future?

ROY: I think it is definitely a glimpse of the future. We are looking in a very dark mirror, as it were. I think with each of these cyclones, what we have seen is more saltwater encroaching. And in fact, these cyclones have constantly made the agriculture land smaller and smaller. And this farmland has been poisoned by saltwaters (ph). The tiger habitat is shrinking, so the tigers are coming into human habitation. The villagers are going deeper into the forest, looking for crabs or trying to collect honey and then - thus being more vulnerable to tigers. So many people who even now live in the Sundarbans don't think there's a future there for their children.

SHAPIRO: That's journalist and writer Sandip Roy in Kolkata, India.

Thank you for speaking with us today.

ROY: Thank you, Ari.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.