Cyclone Aila 2009

Cyclone Aila

Tropical Storm Aila struck southern Bangladesh and eastern India on May 27, 2009. The New York Times reported that floods and mudslides killed at least 191 people and left hundreds of thousands more homeless. As of May 27, the death toll was expected to rise. Images from The Nasa Earth Observatory.


The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA's Terra satellite captured this true-color image of Aila on May 25, 2009, the same day that the storm temporarily strengthened to a Category 1 cyclone. Aila almost completely fills this scene, stretching from the Bay of Bengal deep into India, Bangladesh, and Burma (Myanmar). On May 25, Aila's wind speeds ranged from 74 kilometers per hour (46 miles per hour or 40 knots) to 120 kilometers per hour (75 miles per hour or 65 knots). More information and detailed images can be accessed here:Cyclone Aila

Floods from Cyclone Aila in India and Bangladesh 

ganges_amo_2009148Cyclone Ailia was not a strong storm, but its heavy rains and storm surges were enough to swamp the Mouths of the Ganges River in Bangladesh and India. Some islands in the Bay of Bengal and the mangrove forests of the Sundarbans region were inundated and still cut off from relief and rescue workers as of May 29, 2009. Clean drinking water was an acute problem: tidal surges continued to wash salty water inland over damaged levees, and salt water cannot be decontaminated with regular water purification tablets, according to reports from BBC newsMore information and detailed images can be accessed here:Floods from Cyclone Aila in India and Bangladesh

Weathering the Cyclone Aila at Kolkatta : A personal account by Sangeeta Deogawanka

The following post details a first hand experience of weathering Cyclone Aila at Kolkata, lending it a unique personal perspective. From inaccurate "news alerts" to the city that stood up to the challenge, read on for much more!

24th May. The Sunday newspapers ushered in a cyclone warning. It was nothing new. Summers translate to cyclones in these parts, as Bay of Bengal gets subject to extreme heating, giving rise to humid, intense air masses producing cyclones. We cancelled our plans for taking our guests on a boat ride along Ganga river. Obviously the boats would not operate. We went for a stroll instead, in the evening drizzle, in the Millenium Park, alongside river Ganga. It was an awesome experience, being one with the nature literally. The waters of the river were unusually choppy, slurping over the balustrades. We could see the light drizzle being blown away across the surface of the river by the winds, a sight to behold! Returning home, I checked for cyclone warnings. It came at 9 p.m. The cyclone had been christened Aila. I came across the release on the net.

25th May. Media reports say the cyclone moving at a speed of 80 kmph, is headed towards Kolkata and its southern districts, predicted to hit the city in the afternoon. The day began on this dismal note, along with winds and rain. At 12.30 p.m. the Northern tip of Aila touched Kolkata. Gale winds at a speed of 80-90 km per hour were accompanied with heavy rains. Kolkata city witnessed an unprecedented tree fall of more than 500, killing people, snapping cables and tripping power lines, damaging property and blocking major roads. By afternoon, panic was widespread, as news of roadside deaths and uprooted trees, possibilities of the city being in the eye of the storm, with 6-8 feet high waves in the river with Ganga tributaries crossing danger mark, spread through offices, households and amongst commuters. Traffic came to a standstill. Walls collapsed, the biggest of signboards were torn away, with windows and roadside trees being some of the worst casualties. All long distance trains from Howrah were suspended, as the route lay through the path of storm. Cancelled flights and trains led to grounded passengers in stations and air terminals - a situation that so far had only been associated with bandhs. People commuting from places as far as Kharagpur were also stranded. This compounded the situation at Howrah station, as a large chunk of the working section commutes from areas lying to the West of the river. Local train services linking the city to the 24 Paragana districts and outlying villages were cancelled, as tracks were laid up with trees all through. This was a major setback, for the labour classes in Kolkata who commute from these villages. Later, I learned from my maid that she had spend that night in her drenched clothes, packed with others in the trains grounded at the Sealdah station. As the milkman said, it was a blessing, as every second person was in wet clothing and "at least we had body warmth from being huddled together"! Major arterial roads linking the North to Southern Kolkata, like the VIP Road and Eastern By-Pass remained blocked by fallen trees for a greater part of the day. Offices began releasing employees after 3 p.m. and shops began downing shutters. Police approached shops and offices in the trading hub of the city, BurraBazaar, after 3 p.m. asking to close up. "The second spell of the storm started around 4.30 p.m. when the southern tip reached Kolkata. The wind speed had by then gain reached 120 kmph. The second spell continued till 5.30 p.m. after which the storm headed northwards." [The Times of India, Kolkata, 26th May, Pg 2] What I found amazing was that even till about 7 p.m., all prime local TV channels kept relaying about possibilities of cyclone Aila hitting Kolkata, whereas actually by then it had already diverted, as we came to know later! So much, for the accuracy of the "Breaking News" constantly flashing across the TV screens. "At one point, the cyclone came as close as 15 km from the city. Although the cyclone did not 'hit' Calcutta in the full sense of the term, the peripheral or outer spiralling winds of Aila began lashing the city since morning. These outer winds had speeds greater than 120kmph".(The Telegraph, Calcutta, 26th May). It was the outlying districts of 24 Paraganas [North & South], Howrah and East Midnapur that bore the maximum brunt of Cyclone Aila, as always. The media coverage has varied, from Kolkata being in the eye of the storm to having got a go-by. Even today, the residents of the city are not clear about whether the cyclone indeed "hit"Kolkata, or merely brushed past, such was the intensity of winds and stormy trail it left in its wake. In the past few decades that I have been at Kolkata, I have weathered many such storms and impending cyclones. Each of them, left a trail of devastation in the coastal areas and adjoining districts, but most by-passed the metropolis, just like the 'Bijli' a month ago. This was however a cyclone with a difference, in that, the warning came almost 36 hours in advance. Yet, neither alerts nor warning signals were send out to the general public, till the actual ferocity of the storm was already in force and people caught up in the midst. The lack of preparedness was evident, as usual, despite the newly formed Disaster Management Department. What was evident, was the excellent PR exercises maintained throughout by the State authorities and officials, who spoke on TV channels about the disaster management measures undertaken, but not about why they failed to take evacuationary and warning measures before the cyclone. Life in Kolkata includes such rapidly building up cyclones, flash floods and water-logging, sans warnings or civic measures. So of necessity, I have long since devised my own traditional method of "knowing". Surrounded aplenty by cats and birds in my building, I have taken to observing and learning from nature and animals. Indeed, it is amazing, how animal behaviour patterns during the 24 hours leading up to a cyclone are in sync with cyclone advances. Whether it is the scurried haphazard non-linear movement of ants, or the frenzied cacophony of birds, the stillness and reclusive inclination of cats, or the frenetic behaviour of other animals in tandem with the raging sound of winds and spells of sudden stillness that warn of the impending 'eye'; nature has indeed fine-tuned her biome to warn man of her own natural disasters. Today, a week later, the rapid clean-up operations in the metro are to be commended. It is only the tree stumps and blank frames of signboards that speak of the Aila having stormed in and left. Kolkata has learned to move on. For more on Cyclone Aila: Cyclone Aila - IWP Blog

The following images are from Anil Gulati, offering us a first hand look at the cyclone hit areas in a set of sparse yet telling images. The images portray the the loss of hope, submerged dwellings to the struggle to carry on as relief trickles in.

See more here: India Water Portal on Flickr
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