04/15/2010, 00.00
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Tropical storm leaves 130 dead, thousands homeless, as Church helps victims

Winds of up to 160 kilometres an hour devastate northeastern India and Bangladesh. Communication lines are down; rescue operations are difficult. West Bengal bishop says shelters are open across the diocese to help the displaced “without discrimination of caste or creed.”
New Delhi (AsiaNews) – Rescue teams continue searching for survivors, after a tropical storm struck northeastern India and Bangladesh. The death toll now stands at 130 people but is expected to go higher. Many areas are still isolated and telephone communications are down. Winds reaching up to160 kilometres per hour swept entire towns and villages, damaging 70,000 to 100,000 homes, according to preliminary estimates.

In India, the State of Bihar was the hardest hit with at least 76 known deaths. Emergency teams are struggling to provide medicines and basic necessities. Official sources said that 42 people died in the northeastern State of West Bengal, and five more in Assam. In Bangladesh, seven people are known to have died, all in Rangpur District. Hundreds of people were hurt by the fury of the wind, and thousands have lost their home.

In the meantime, many people are angry with the weather department in India, guilty in their eyes of not issuing any early warning.

Experts explained that the storm was an extreme form of what is locally known as a "nor'wester", a weather pattern that develops over the Bay of Bengal during the hot months of the year.

Mgr Alphonsus F. D’Souza, bishop of Raiganj, in Uttar Dinajpur District (West Bengal), told AsiaNews that he was “deeply saddened by the loss of life.”

“Roads are blocked with fallen trees and communications lines have snapped. Getting detailed information is difficult,” he said.

“The Catholic Church, through its social ministry, that is the Social Welfare Institute (SWI), will provide immediate aid to people who lost their homes,” the bishop of Raiganj said. “Thousands are homeless, and the diocese will open shelters in Catholic facilities, providing help and medical assistance.”

Later, through its partner agencies, the Church “will work towards rehabilitation and reconstruction.” But for now, “our most urgent concern is immediate relief for the people,” and this “without discrimination of caste or creed.”

In neighbouring Bangladesh, people displaced by the storm blame the local administration in Rangpur District for failing to start a coordinated effort in support of the population. Many have become homeless, forced to live in the open air. The fate of children, deprived of any assistance, is particularly worrisome.

(Nirmala Carvalho and William Gomes contributed reporting)

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