98kmph squall batters Kolkata, kills eight

KOLKATA: A storm, with peak speed reaching about 100 kmph, roared through Kolkata for about 45 minutes on Tuesday evening, leaving in its wake a
At least eight people were killed in Kolkata and Howrah and several more were injured as the storm—which would rank as the second-fastest to hit Kolkata since in 2009—uprooted more than 120 trees, tripped power in several areas, stopped traffic in its tracks, disrupted flights and rail movement and kept one Metro rake filled with passengers stranded near Dum Dum for over 90 minutes.

The double squall—the first hit with a speed of 84 kmph at 7.42pm and the second battered the city 16 minutes later with a speed of 98 kmph—and the accompanying rain caught Kolkata entirely unawares as, till about an hour before they hit, the only weather update was about a storm that would hit West Midnapore and probably lash the city with its tail.

But what hit Kolkata was enough to pulverise it and keep those who were outside terror-struck for about 45 minutes, with the geographical spread of the deaths indicating the storm’s massive footprint.

An autorickshaw driver and a woman, who boarded a Park Circus-bound three-wheeler at Chandni Chowk a little after 8pm, died when a tree fell on it near Jyoti cinema on Lenin Sarani. Three other passengers are being treated at the and are critical.

Around the same time, Tangra resident Md Sahid Khan, who had taken shelter under the balcony of a four-storey building in Anandapur, was killed when the second-floor terrace crashed on him. The person he was speaking to, Md Arju, is battling for life.

Behala Parnasree resident Nirush Minz, who had taken his pet dog for vaccination to the vet’s near Asoka cinema on Diamond Harbour Road, died around the same time when a tree fell on him; the 65-year-old had come out of the doctor’s chamber because it was too crowded.

Howrah resident Amit Shukla, 28, had come to Posta for work. He was killed when a chunk of concrete from a ground-plus-five-storey building fell on him as he was walking along a pavement on Kalakar Street.

There were reports of another death from Panchannagram, off E M Bypass, after a portion of a wall collapsed on a middle-aged man but police could not confirm this. Three electrocution deaths were reported from Howrah, two in Belur and another in Dumurjola. Thousands of people were stranded at Esplanade, Howrah and Sealdah stations till late into the night.

The weather office admitted it had not expected the storm to lash Kolkata with such force. “Convective thunderclouds were floating towards Kolkata from the neighbouring districts of Burdwan, Howrah and Nadia. But, unlike on previous occasions, the clouds got concentrated over Kolkata and struck the city with tremendous speed,” Regional Meteorological Centre director G K Das said.

Around 120 trees crashed across the city, including 40 in north Kolkata; the areas included Dum Dum, Cossipore, APC Roy Road, Chittaranjan Avenue, Beadon Street and Chitpore. Around 35 trees fell in central Kolkata, which stalled traffic at Chandni Chowk and on S N Banerjee Road, Red Road, Lenin Sarani, Camac Street, Park Street and Wood Street. In south Kolkata, more than 40 trees were uprooted in Bhowanipore, Alipore, Jadavpur, Bagha Jatin, Patuli and on Harish Mukherjee Road, Sarat Bose Road, Southern Avenue and the Bypass-Anwar Shah Road Connector.

Almost every arterial road was clogged because of uprooted trees and lampposts. Howrah-bound traffic came to a halt when Strand Road shut. Traffic was also disrupted on Mahatma Gandhi Road after a tram’s traction wire snapped. Traffic was disrupted on E M Bypass between Chingrighata and Science City and on Bijan Setu after multiple lampposts crashed. And, on Lake Road, a tree fell on an ambulance though no one was injured.

Guardrails dragged along the road by the wind lay flat on the ground on E M Bypass, posing a risk to cars. Twelve civic rescue teams worked to clear the roads through the night but KMC officials could not guarantee that the thoroughfares would be ready for traffic on Wednesday.

Services in Eastern Railway’s Sealdah division were badly hit, with trains stranded on the Barrackpore, Barasat, Dankuni and Circular Railway routes. Efforts were made to maintain services in the Howrah division but there was frequent tripping of power, delaying trains midway.

At the airport, air traffic controllers received the storm warning from the met department and swung into action. They assigned higher altitudes than usual to incoming flights so that they remained safe while the storm raged below. Three flights that were bound for Kolkata were put on hold and asked to circle over the city. On the ground, two departing flights were put on hold.

“Flight services at the airport were disrupted between 8 and 8.30 p.m. The wind was too strong to allow safe operations. Even planes that were on the ground were rocked by the winds,” an airport official said.

Lashed by strong winds and heavy rain, water seeped into the steel-and-glass airport terminal through the roof and the basement. Three elevators had to be shut down due to water accumulation on the roof. In the basement, water gushed in through the gates and inundated the Thai and Vistara offices.

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