It is the morning after Amphan, the first tropical cyclone of the 2020 season in the Northern Indian Ocean, hit coastal districts of Bangladesh and India’s West Bengal as well as Odisha states, wreaking the kind of varied destruction only cyclones can. Buildings with their roofs blown off, trees uprooted as if in a procession, crops and cropland destroyed, hundreds upon hundreds of miles of powerlines rendered useless- reportedly a million people in Bangladesh spent the night without electricity, on top of 10 killed. And yet, the unmistakable feeling to which the country arose today was one of having dodged a bullet.
Which is not to say there was any fluke involved, or a preponderance of chance about it. By now it is well-known that the country has a well-designed and well-practised government-led but community-driven routine for dealing with the severe weather systems brewing in the Bay of Bengal and destined to head our way at least once or twice in each of the two relative short windows bracketing the monsoon. The legitimate concern was whether it would all get too much for all agencies involved in upholding emergency services, coming as Amphan did in the midst of a pandemic.
It was a worry that permeated both sides of the border, seeing as India and Bangladesh at present find themselves in remarkably similar positions in dealing with their local epidemics - too late to gather up the urgency that could have proved useful at the start of March rather than the end, here we are peeking into June, with no end in sight to the incessant spread of SARS-CoV-2.
In the end, it would have to be said the system held up well, with no gaps opening up in the pathway from early warning to localised communication leading to evacuation and shelter. By the time it arrived in Bangladesh Amphan too was bereft of much of the prowess that had marked it out as the ‘strongest storm this century’ (i.e. the 21st) to have formed in the Bay of Bengal, earning the rare accolade of ‘Super Cyclone’ while it was (thankfully) still deep in the ocean.Initial reports suggest the densely populated southern regions of West Bengal bore the brunt of the onslaught, including Kolkata.
In any case I don’t think any of us would have been alone in welcoming the distraction from the constant and ubiquitous news of the virus, that has cornered the news agenda since at least March to an extent that must be unprecedented in the history of news media. To which we inevitably now return. Trust a pandemic to make an old news hand even miss a destructive cyclone!