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Gospel for Asia
World News

'The pain and the agony is huge': Christian charities respond to death and destruction as cyclone hits India and Bangladesh

by Tola Mbakwe

A powerful cyclone has ripped through densely populated areas of India and Bangladesh.

Wide swathes of the coasts of the two countries were flooded and millions of people were left without power after the most powerful cyclone to hit the region in more than a decade left dozens dead and a trail of destruction.

In the Indian city of Kolkata, home to more than 14 million people, large portions of the metropolis and its suburbs were underwater, including the city's main airport. Roads were littered with uprooted trees and lampposts, and electricity and communication lines were down.

Cyclone Amphan also badly damaged many centuries-old buildings when it tore through the city.

Dr. KP Yohannan founder of Gospel for Asia told Premier the cyclone hit impoverished areas like West Bengal.

"Our hearts are grieved because we have many churches planted on these islands. These are the poorest of the poor people that live there and these church buildings are nothing but just made of bamboo sticks and temporary shelters."

Gospel for Asia

When the storm made landfall on Wednesday it lashed coastal areas in both India and Bangladesh with heavy rain, a battering storm surge and sustained winds of 105mph and gusts up to 118mph.

In Bangladesh, television stations reported 13 deaths, while 72 deaths were reported in India's West Bengal state. Officials said two people were killed in India's Odisha state.

Hundreds of villages in Bangladesh were flooded by tidal surges and more than a million people were without electricity.

Officials in both countries said the full extent of the damage remained to be seen as communication lines to many places remained down.

The ongoing coronavirus pandemic and social-distancing measures had made mass evacuations ahead of the storm difficult. Shelters were unable to run at full capacity in many places and some people were too scared of the risk of infection to mass there.

Likewise, the pandemic will have an impact on relief efforts and recovery. The damage caused by the storm is likely to have lasting repercussions for poor families already stretched to the limit by the economic impact of the pandemic.

Dr Yohannan said: "These people are being moved in trucks and in large numbers, they are running and screaming to save their lives and if some infections take place that is going to spread very wide. 

"But the biggest of all problems are starvation and hunger. They are losing everything they have, and now they're going to be displaced without food and materials. The pain, and the agony is so huge. I feel like all we can do is pray."

Gospel for Asia has responded to the tragedy to provide for those who are starving. 

Christian Aid has also responded by providing shelter, food and hygiene kits.

Christian Aid's Bangladesh country director, Pankaj Kumar, said: "Thankfully, community preparedness has led to minimum deaths, but Amphan has left huge devastation in its wake, with homes, communications, crops and livelihoods destroyed.  Approximately 80% tin-roofed homes in Satkira district have been blown away and families are struggling to find clean water and food.

"We are also glad to report that initial reports indicate minimal damage to camps in Cox's Bazar.

"The region is experiencing an increased number of intense storms year on year, and it is the most poor and vulnerable who are being hit the hardest. They are still restoring their homes and livelihoods from previous years, including Cyclone Bulbul, which affected 1.8m people and damaged 70,000 homes in November, and Amphan risks putting them back to square one.  The lack of clean water and food further exacerbates their situation as they continue to be mindful of cleanliness during the pandemic."

India's prime minister, Narendra Modi, said authorities were working on the ground to ensure all possible assistance to those affected.

Listen to Premier interview with Dr KP Yohannan here:

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