Vol. 5 Num 295 Sat. March 26, 2005  

Storms lash West Bengal: 18 dead
Thousands homeless

Two days of gales and heavy rains left at least 18 people dead, 50 hurt and 7,500 homeless in India's West Bengal state, officials said yesterday.

Eight died in Burdwan, 200km west of Kolkata and another 10 in coastal villages strung along the Bay of Bengal on Wednesday and Thursday.

"We have received reports of the deaths. Relief have been sent to the affected places," said West Bengal relief minister Hafiz Alem Sairani.

The casualties included 30 children hurt when a school roof collapsed on Wednesday, he said.

Sairani announced that the families of the dead would be paid 70,000 rupees (1,625 dollars) each in compensation.

The minister said most people died when their makeshift homes were blown over. The homeless were being sheltered in schools.

He described a trail of devastation with trees uprooted and high tension power lines and telephone links down.

At least 22 people died Tuesday and Wednesday when tropical storms swept across neighbouring Bangladesh.

The thunderstorms hit 25 districts across the country late Tuesday and Wednesday and were accompanied by winds of up to 56km per hour that flattened thousands of thatched and tin houses.

The storms follow a tornado which ripped through 15 villages in northern Bangladesh on Sunday, killing at least 54 people.

Thunderstorms and strong winds are frequent at this time of year in the Bay of Bengal.

Sunday's tornado flattened some 3,000 homesteads and left over 8,000 homeless.