Almost all of the 12 elderly people who were casually asked about Cyclone Aila, could not remember braving such a strong-intensity cyclone in their lifetime, which raged for nearly 10 hours without ebbing.
Their description matched the mayhem it created. Aila would possibly be remembered as the most destructive cyclone in recent history of South Bengal.
The damage gaped wide open even after 15 days. As our team from Seva Kendra Calcutta neared the most affected parts of Sandeshkhali Block I, it became eminent that Aila’s effect was from being over.
Our partner Seva Kendra Calcutta (SKC) was on action stations from day one, after Aila swept the North and South 24 Parganas districts. Teaming up with two local voluntary organisations, it provided the first relief to the people of Kalinagar Gram Panchayat on 27 May 2009 and then to Sehara Gram Panchayat.
Dipendra Burman, Secretary of Ghoshpur Debasish Sebashram Sangha, said that immediately after the cyclone struck, the next day members from his organisation and from Dakshin Akhratola Swami Vivekananda Sangha set out to assess the damage in the two Gram Panchayats. During this assessment they also listed the people who were affected in categories like female, children, and pregnant women. This helped them get a better picture of the intensity of misery.
They collected list of the people who were getting relief from government. This ensured that except food, other relief items were not duplicated.
On the same day, 27 May, they contacted Seva Kendra Calcutta and briefed about the scenario. A team from SKC rushed to the spot in Kalinagar and gauging the situation immediately provided dry food like puffed rice, chapped rice and jaggery to the affected people.
On 29 May 2009, 901 people in Kalinagar were provided with kichdi (mixture of rice, bulgur, soya beans, dal, potatoes and pumpkin). On the same day, another 1,200 families were provided kichdi at Sehara Radhanagar panchayat, some 3 kilometres away from Kalinagar.