Cyclone Aila hits millions hard

KOLKATTA: Millions of people in India and Bangladesh remained marooned without food or water today, four days after cyclone Aila hit them, and authorities said disease was becoming a serious problem.

The cyclone killed at least 275 people, but officials say the toll could mount due to epidemics in the aftermath. Cyclone Aila hit parts of coastal Bangladesh and eastern India Monday, triggering tidal surges and floods and destroying hundreds of thousands of homes. It caused extensive damage to rice and other crops but officials say they were still assessing the losses. In the communist-ruled Indian state of West Bengal, at least 5.1 million people were displaced, with more than one million people stranded in Sundarban islands alone, most of them without any food or water, officials said. At least 100 people have died in the eastern state. “The situation is alarming and we need a lot of help to combat the outbreak of water-borne diseases,” said Kanti Ganguly, a senior West Bengal minister. Heavy rains triggered by the cyclone raised river levels and burst mud embankments in the Sundarbans delta, causing widespread flooding and triggering landslides. The Indian Air force air-dropped supplies to remote islands in the Sundarabans today, and people scampered to grab packets of pre-cooked food, water and medicines, witnesses said.

“We are carrying out sorties every day and we have been able to cover some remote places today,” said Mahesh Upasani, a defence ministry spokesman.

In Bangladesh, more than three million people have been hit by the cyclone, and cases of diarrhoea have broken out, due to an acute scarcity of drinking water. Yesterday, the toll from cyclone Aila in Bangladesh climbed to 175.