The Sunderbans and the coastal districts of West Bengal, which have already been devastated by cyclone Yaas and the storm surge it triggered, are now bracing for yet another crisis around the end of this month.
While on one hand a spring tide, during which the water level in the sea and rivers rises at least a metre higher than the usual high tide, is expected to hit in the last week of June, officials apprehend that it could trigger more damage if it hits when the monsoon rains are in full swing.
“Two more tides are coming. While one is expected to hit around June 11, a second one, which would be bigger, is expected to hit around June 26. If these tides hit during heavy rains, then the water level would increase further,” said chief minister Mamata Banerjee on Wednesday.
Cyclone Yaas, which coincided with the perigean spring tide on May 26, inflicted heavy damage to the river embankments in the Sunderbans, flooding several villages. Many are still inundated under a few feet of water.
Officials said if the breaches are not repaired, river water would gush in again, flooding the villages once more. “The chief minister has directed officials to plug some of the breaches before June 11-12. By June 25, we must repair all breaches in the embankments, she said,” a senior official said.
According to officials present in the meeting, the chief minister was visibly peeved with the recurring breaches that the embankments were suffering after every storm and cyclone, flooding the villages and damaging property worth thousands of crores.
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“The damage stays for the next few years because once the saline water from the rivers and the sea gushes in, inundated croplands and sweet water ponds are rendered useless. Traditional crops won’t grow and sweet water fishes such as rohu and katla won’t survive. Villagers need to wait for at least two to three years till monsoon rains can wash away the layer of salt,” said an official.
According to the forecast, the water level at Sagar which is a part of the Sunderbans, could rise up to 5.67m on June 25 when the spring tide hits. Usually, it remains below the 4.5m mark during the high tide.
While the delta was hit by Cyclone Amphan in May 2020, Cyclone Yaas hit on May 26. Even though Yaas made the landfall in Odisha, the tidal waves and storm surge inflicted heavy damage in the Sunderbans and coastal districts of East Midnapore, South 24 Parganas and North 24 Parganas.
The state has come up with an estimates damage of ₹20,000 crore whereas the Centre has allocated ₹1,000 crore for the damage.