Kolkata, May 25 (IANS) Twelve people were killed Monday and the Indian Army was asked to start rescue operations in the coastal South 24 Parganas district where extensive damage was feared as cyclone Aila crossed the coast into West Bengal.
Fifteen people were injured in the West Bengal capital. Five of the deaths occurred in Kolkata, where normal life virtually collapsed as a storm with a speed of 55 km per hour uprooted trees at around 50 places blocking major roads. The accompanying rains caused waterlogging in large parts of the city.
Six died in South 24 Parganas district.
A South 24 Parganas district official said 40,000 people have been rescued in Patharpratima, Kultali and Sagardigh blocks. Train services were severely disrupted with the railway authorities suspending operation from Howrah till the situation improved.
A South Eastern Railway spokesman said with fallen trees blocking tracks at four stations in the Kharagpur-Howrah section, several passenger trains were stranded.
Train services were also severely affected in the south Section of the Sealdah division.
Railways Minister Mamata Banerjee said the army columns have been asked to move in to areas like Gosaba, Patharpratima and Kultali in and around the Sundarbans delta in South Parganas district.
Banerjee, who spoke to Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee several times about the situation, said the situation was 'very bad' in Pakhiraganj, which was under eight feet water.
She said with uprooted trees blocking roads, the army columns have been stuck at Diamond Harbour and appealed to the people to help in removing trees so that they can proceed to the affected areas.
The weathermn said the cyclonic storm Aila was now centred 80 km from Kolkata. And was likely to intensify into a severe cyclone and hit Kolkata and its adjoining districts with a speed of 90-100 km per hour.
All districts of South Bengal would be lashed by storm and rains till Tuesday morning, the met office said.
The cyclone will have a force of 100-110 km in the sea, and fishermen have been asked not to venture into the seas. The Kolkata Port authorities have been asked to hoist danger signal number 10. In Kolkata, tram services were stopped and people asked not to venture into the streets till the evening.
Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee held a high level meeting at the state secretariat to monitor the situation and take all possible measures.
Deputy Commissioner (Detective Department) Javed Shamim told IANS: 'boats have been kept ready for emergency evacuation' of people from low lying areas of the city.
An alert has also been sounded in East Midnapore and West Midnapore districts.
An India Meteorological Department (IMD) statement in Delhi said: 'Sea condition will be very high along and off West Bengal and north Orissa coasts (till Tuesday evening).
'Storm surge of about 2-3 meters above astronomical tide is likely to inundate the coastal areas of South 24 Pargana and Midnapore districts of West Bengal at the time of landfall.'