Catholic volunteers provided food and shelter to hundreds of people in coastal eastern India after Cyclone Amphan devastated the region on 20th May, killing 80 people and destroying thousands of homes.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi plans to travel to West Bengal and Odisha states to review the situation.
The most powerful cyclone to hit eastern India and Bangladesh in more than 20 years tore down homes, carried cars down flooded streets and inundated farmland. Reports said it was the first such cyclone that Kolkata had experienced in about three centuries.
Archbishop Thomas D’Souza of Kolkata, capital of West Bengal state, asked parishes to open their facilities to people left homeless by the storm, feed them, and assist anyone in need.
Although Odisha state frequently witnesses cyclones and the last superstorm hit it in 1999, West Bengal usually have escaped powerful cyclones.
Kolkata, formerly known as Calcutta, was once India’s capital under British colonial rule.
“It was the worst and most terrifying experience I ever had in my life,” said Father Franklin Menezes, social work director of the Archdiocese of Kolkata.
“I just shut the doors and windows of my residence and kept reciting the rosary as the wind battered the windows with a sound like a roaring lion,” Fr Menezes told reporters.
“The storm hit most of Kolkata, uprooting thousands of trees and destroying the city’s green cover. Public roads were flooded and even dead bodies were found floating in water as many died of electrocution,” the priest said.
Archbishop D’Souza told reporters the death toll could have been much higher had the state government not evacuated more than 500,000 people to safer places.
“Many churches and other institutions of the Catholic Church suffered damage. However, there is no loss of life from the community,” he said, adding that the “top priority is to arrange food for so many people who have lost everything.”
Several church facilities in coastal areas are accommodating people and providing them with food and basic requirements.
Janet Symes, CAFOD’s Head of Asia Region, said: “Cyclone Amphan has devastated the homes of millions of people in India and Bangladesh. Vulnerable communities were already facing the crisis of coronavirus when the ‘super cyclone’ struck, bringing with it flooding, landslides and winds of more than 160mph which tore off roofs and brought down trees and power lines.
“The Catholic Church aid network is on the ground in the affected areas and mobilised hundreds of volunteers to help evacuate thousands of people in its path – saving countless lives. It also prepared evacuation shelters, ensuring they were clean and had handwashing supplies, masks and gloves to reduce the spread of coronavirus.
“As the extent of the damage caused by the storm slowly emerges and the clean-up begins, Caritas Bangladesh – a local organisation CAFOD has worked with for many years – will be supporting families whose homes have been torn apart by providing them with essential food supplies and shelter.”
Photo: Residents carry tin sheets salvaged from the rubble of a damaged house in a village near Kolkata, India, on 22nd May, in the aftermath of Cyclone Amphan. (CNS photo/Rupak De Chowdhuri, Reuters)