Vlog: Surviving Cyclone Amphan on Level 41 of A Kolkata High-Rise
Our reporter in Bengal shares her experience of the super-cyclone from her 41st floor residence in Kolkata.
Video Editor: Varun Sharma, Deepthi Ramdas
(Amphan, the second super cyclone to form over the Bay of Bengal since 1999 made landfall in West Bengal at 2:30 pm on Wednesday, 20 May. It continued to cause destruction in the form of high-velocity winds and heavy rains till early morning on 21 May. As per government figures at 9:30pm on 20 May, 10-12 people have lost their lives in West Bengal due to the cyclone. Power supply is erratic across the state and many areas have been flooded. The Quint's reporter from Bengal gives a first-hand account of the ferocious storm from her 41st floor residence in Kolkata.)
We'd survived Aila. We'd survived Bulbul. How much worse could another weirdly-named cyclone be? That was me, like most other insufferable, privileged people, till about 6:45 pm on 20 May.
I live on the 41st floor of a reputed high-rise in Kolkata. Our gated community has a "Disaster Management Team" for situations like these. On the privilege metre, I'm basically a 100 on 10. So, again, what really could go wrong? That was my refrain to everyone, including my mother, who showed any sign of panic.
But soon, I, too, realised, that when it comes to nature, privilege can only do so much. As the cyclone headed towards Kolkata, the "beautiful" rain and winds from the morning slowly took a scary ferocity.
By around 5 pm, about three hours since the cyclone made landfall between Digha in Bengal and Hatia in Bangladesh, the wind speeds in Kolkata were nearing 100 kmph.
Around this time, the gas supply, internet and cable in our apartment had been cut off. The sound of the wind beating against the windows grew louder and louder. We couldn't open or close doors due to the wind pressure.
It's also around his time that we slowly started getting reports on our society Whatsapp group of people in lower floors complaining of their windows flying off. Soon the one-off reports spilled to dozens.
Even at this time, I continued to give everything the benefit of doubt. Maybe these guys hadn't bolted their windows properly. Maybe the construction of their specific apartment is faulty.
A little later, at around 6:30 pm, right as the cyclone was about to hit Kolkata, the power went off. Usually, that's not something we are used to because the precious generator in our privileged circles come on. This time it didn't because it was apparently a safety hazard.
As we were ambling around in the dark, trying to light some candles, there was a loud crash and a gust of wind almost swept us off balance. We ran against the direction of the wind to my room. The window had come off. It was hanging by one hinge.
Just to reiterate, this was the 41st floor. The brunt of the wind speed was 10x higher than it would be if we were lower down.
I saw my mother try to make her way to the window to pull it shut, as I tried to keep the door of the room pulled open lest she get stuck inside. This was the first time that I realised that human beings could get knocked down by winds outside of movies.
Unable to make it, my mother ran out and the door slammed behind her. My mother, my househelp and I held on to the doorknob for dear life to contain the pressure of the winds to our room. The force of the wind, if allowed to escape from the room, would've ravage our whole house and could also potentially break all our glass windows.
We frantically tried to call for help but the mobile networks, internet connection and the intercom were all down.
Next, my mother tried to make it out of the main door to seek help from our neighbours. However, due to the wind pressure we couldn't pull open the door either. She managed after 10 minutes of struggle.
I could hear by mother shout in the lobby outside our apartment, trying to be heard over the winds. The doorbells were dysfunctional as there was no electricity. Thankfully, a neighbour, who happens to be a sailor, heard her.
He came into our apartment and helped us fight with the door knob for about half an hour. The two of us then built the courage to go into the room and pull the unhinged window shut. After a five-seven minute struggle we were successful. Our neighbour used a heavy object to keep the window in place.
We used similar heavy objects for all our windows after that. My entire family was in shock. Nobody had expected to come face-to-face with a situation like this.
The winds continued to beat down till about 2-3 am when they finally began to abate. The entire night electricity continued to be erratic, drinking water was cut off and we could not cook. However, at the end of it, we were safe.
This experience was scary, but more than that, it was humbling. If I, with my zillion privileges, could come so close to disaster, it is unimaginable what those with lesser privileges and resources had to go through.
The government says that West Bengal has probably never seen a cyclone this bad. The North 24 Parganas and South 24 Parganas district have reportedly been completely ravaged. As the exact extent of the damage get assessed and people get back to their homes that may no longer exist, here's praying that we get out of this safe, and together.
(If you want to donate towards relief of families affected due to Amphan, click here.)
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