98 kmph squall batters 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 trail of unprecedented death and destruction. 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 Cyclone Aila 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 7.42 pm 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 8 pm, died when a tree fell on it near Jyoti cinema on Lenin Sarani. Three other passengers are being treated at the Medical College Hospital 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 secondfloor 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.

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