Cyclones and Floods at Contai
[Continued from page 3]
Cyclone and Kanthi.
From the very emergence of Kanthi in the third or fourth century of the Christian era, cyclones have played a big role in shaping the destiny of Kanthi - people, occasionally positively, indirectly adding to their safety and prosperity, but, more often than not, destructively,robbing people of their hearth and home, kith and kin, near and dear ones. It is supposed that Kanthi with its two long sand - ridges, running almost parallel to each other and standing guard against sea - invasion, was the result of joint action of a gigantic cyclone and inundation. Moreover, Kanthi came to the lime-light only when the glory of Hijli and Khejuri was washed away by cyclonic inundation. But the Sea-monster frequently raided the population, as if to extort toll, causing misery that beggars description.
Being situated at the north -west angle of the Bay of Bengal, the whole district of Medinipur is liable to cyclonic stroms, whereas Kanthi, because of its coastal position, often happened to have been in the eye of the strom and had to bear the brunt of the marine invasion. According to O’ Malley, while cyclones from the Bay of Bengal are a usual feature of the whole period during which the South-west monsoon - current prevails, the most destructive ones appear as prologues or epilogues to this monsoon session, i.e.,in April- May or October – November.
More destructive storms.
The stroms, almost a yearly phenomenon, generally accompanied by heavy rainfall and marked by whirling motion, cause more or less damages to life and property. But the cyclones of 1864, 1867, 1874, 1925 and 1942 were all the more destructive. In Bengal District Gazetteers (Midnapore), O’Malley gives accounts of the destruction caused by all of them but the last two. Following him, an idea is given here.
1864 - Cyclone.
It was 5th October. The cyclone originated somewhere near the Andamans, advanced north - westward and struck the coastal areas of Balasore and Medinipur. Of Medinipur, Tamluk had to endure the climatic impact of the cyclone, but the experience of people in south - eastern part of Kanthi Sub-division was no less bitter.
The villages centering round Bahiri, to the east of Kanthi town, covering about fifty six square miles, were completely devastated. Being numerous and thickly populated, the villages suffered the loss of a staggering number of life. The exact number of death could never ascertained for there were villages where nobody was left alive to report. After the flood, dead bodies and carcasses lying about rotting in the sun, the air thick with putrid smell, consumption of bad food and impure water caused diseases like cholera, dysentery and small pox to bresk out and take away as much toll of life as exacted immediately by the cyclonic flood.
For about one and a half centuries, Khejuri served the foreign merhants, the Portuguese, the Dutch, the English and the French, as an important import – export centre, but then its decline set in. Cyclones invaded Khejuri again and again, in 1780, in 1823, in 1831 and in 1833. Particularly the 1833 – cyclonic flood reduced the population to about one –forth and the livestock to almost nil. In spite of that, Khejuri, though it lost much of its glamour, was in existence. In 1844, as found in settlement records, there were nineteen tea-stalls, eight boatswains, a police statin, a church, an Excise office, coffee-shops, hotels, gardens, a signal- mast, twenty six brothels, a dancing – theatre, bungalows of Europeans, and, of course, the Telegraph office, the first of its kind in India.
Death – Knell.
However, the 1864 cyclone tolled the death knell of Khejuri – port. The sea – wave that flowed much higher than the sea – dyke submerged the whole area. One instance will suffice to suggest the extent of destruction. Of the thirty two witnesses on their way to the court to give evidence in a robbery cases, only two survived and thirty got watery burial. A tragic tale of Mr. J.Bottellho, the Postmaster of Khejuri and the Honorary Magistrate, losing all is difficult to forget. The son of Mr. Bottellho Eugene, could not be traced. Mr. Bottellho and his wife riding a chest were out in search of their son, and none of them returned.
At Kaukhali, a village about five miles south of khejuri, a Light house was built in 1810. A stone – plaque, at the foot of the Light House, put up at a height of thirteen feet from the ground, informs us that the sea – water in 1864 – cyclonic – flood rose up to that height.
The account of the Superintendent of Kaukhali Light House.
In his memoir – book, Romanthan, Mr. Prasanta Pramanik, an illustrious denizen of Kanthi, refers to “Bengal Administration Report of 1864 – 65” writeen by the then Superintendent of Kaukhali Light house. A part of the report quoted in the book gives a picture of the fateful day of 5th October. It may be recounted here for the viewers’ sake. At 3 a.m. of 5th October, the wind suddenly stopped blowing and the lull lasted about an hour. Then it began to blow in gusts, occasionally with torrents of rain. After ten, there was another recess of half an hour. At about 10.30, the cyclone started blowing with all its wantonness. Hithertobefore, the wind had been blowing from the north –east, now it slightly veering direction began to blow from the east. Gradually it became so strong as to sweep away everything that fell its way. The gale continued up to 3 p.m. and then again veerld its way. The destructive strom blew from the south-west for the next one hour, bringing in sea – swelling that carried away men and cattle. At 5 p.m., the strom slackened a little and the sky became clear. By the time, there was waist – deep water outside the Light House.
“Who is to eat it ?”
1864 – cyclone or flood did not cause much damage to the crops. But though the harvesting season passed, the crops in fields stood or lay unreaped. When the Superintendent of the Light house asked a farmer about it, the farmer said, “who is to eat it ?”. The frozen grief caused by the heavy loss of relations sucked up the vitality of people, made them prostrate.
Cyclone of 1867.
Two years passed 15th October was almost passing out peacefully. Suddenly a strom came from the sea. It came ashore near Kanthi. As it is recorded in “Bengal District Gazetteers (Midnapore)”, “the storm traveled with the usual rotatory motion from south-west to north –east across the district” (Medinipur). The cyclone was 20 miles in diameter and the area over which it blew was completely wrecked. It played havoc in Medinipur town. In the whole district, 3,049 people were killed.
Cyclone of 1874.
After 1867, the respite was a little longer. Six years passed without any major incident. In the meantime the dyke along the margin of the sea had been complete. All the small streams leading to the sea through the dyke was sluiced to prevent the cyclone-driven sea-water from flowing upstream. However, the Pitchhaboni sluice was under repairing and, therefore, a side channel was left open with embankments of old low level. But this time, the violence of the wind surpassed that of 1864, and a storm – wave, higher than that of 1864, burst upon the centre of the sea-dyke with full force. The storm – driven sea-wave traveled up the openining of the Pitchhaboni stream, both breached and overtopped the lower section of the embankments, and inundated a large area. The wind was to strong that the two storeyed house at Kanthi was wrecked.
Fate of Sub-division people.
Most of the area being low-lying, the Rasulpur and Keleyghai rivers with numerous small streams having flown through the region and the drainage system not being adequate, it has been the fate of the subdivision to be often subeject to flood and water-logging in the rainy season. To name the wrost ones, the floods of 1913, 1920, 1923, 1926,1940 and 1942 were the nightmares. Short accounts of the last three are given here.
1923 – Flood.
Heavy rainfall in the catchment areas of Keleyghai and Kangsabati in August made the rivers in spate and the flood – water causing breaches in the embankments entered villages and cornfields. Dubda basin of Egra P.S., Barchowka basin of Pataspur with Kanthi and Owain basins turned to enormous pools of water and remained so for more than a month. The paddy crop of the season was totally washed away.
1926 – Flood.
The recurrent curse befell Kanthi again in 1926. hundreds of villages were marooned, acres of cornfield went under water, domestic animals lost life in hundreds, mud – built houses collapsed – people’s misery knew no bounds.
Congress workers – Birendranath Sasmal, Kisoripati Roy, Mahendranath Maity, Pramathanath Bandopadhyay, Mohinimohon Das, Jyotish Chandra Ghosh and others –with all the school, college, library and youth organizations carried on the work of relieving people of their distress.
‘Medinipur Flood Relief Committee’ was formed with the noble – hearted Acharya Prafulla Chandra Roy as its President and Birendranath Sasmal is its Secretary help in cash and kind came pouring in from different parts of India and ruin from abroad in response to their appeal, and the volunteers under their guidance worked day and night to lessen the agony of people.
1940 – Flood.
Flood occurred again in 1933 and 1938, but in 1939, owing to scarcity of rain, drought condition prevailed. Multiplying the misery of people, next year,i.e., in 1940 rains, the wild and uncontrollable Keleyghai broke the embakment chain again and went on the rampage. To give a translated verson of the report, published in a local news-paper ‘Nihar’ of 03.09.’40, “As our staff reporter, Mr. Sachidananda Pathak, writes from his first – hand experience from Bhimeswari of Bhagawanpur, owing to incessant rain from 6th Bhadra ( of Bengali calender ) to 13th Bhadra, all the roads and fields of the area have gone under water. To make matter worse, since the Thursday night of 13th Badhra, the flood water of Keleyghai, after breaking the embankment, has been flowing violently over the region. Houses have collapsed, people are bewailing, communication has become impossible”.
The Flood Relief Committee of Kanthi, the President and the Secretary of which were Natendranath Das and Nikunjabehari Maity respectively, opened eleven centres in Bhagwanpur, Pataspur and Egra police stations from where they distributed relief materials including 3,000 maund ( about ) rice among 6,227 distressed people.
The Relief Committees of Bhagawanpur, Ramnagar and Pataspur P.S.’s also did their best to alleviate the suffering of people. The representatives of Medinipur Flood Relief Committee also distributed relief materials from Tajpur, Kalapunja and Kunjapara and Kanthi centres. Help was provided, from Tajpur centre, to one hundred families of six villages of No. 4 unionin Egra P.S., from Kunjapara centre to 1077 people of 282 families living in four Unions of bhagwanpur and Pataspur P.S.’s. 318 people of 78 distressed families received help from Kalapunja centre and 599 persons of 125 families in 18 villages of Kanthi P.S. got food, clothes or money from the Kanthi centre.
Cyclone and Flood of 1942. (Bangla 49 er banya)
Cyclone and flood are two usual features in the southern part of Medinipur – Kanthi and Tamluk. But in regard to the velocity of the storm, the height reached by the sea – waves striking the land, the colossal loss of life and property they caused, people had never seen a parallel of the cyclonic flood of 1942. The storm blew at a speed of 180 to 200 miles per hour, the invading sea – waves were twenty feet high and there was no warning, no precaution taken as the men at the helm of the administration were worse than idle spectators.
It was Friday, 16th October, 29 the Aswin of the Bengali year 1349. The preliminary ceremonials to the Durga Puja Festival had been performed the previous day. It was the day of Maha – Saptami, the seventh day of the fornight of the Goddess. Since the day before, the sky had been overcast with cloud. Now let us listen to the Sub-divisional magistrate of kanthi Mr. Samar Sen, who saw the storm from the safest building in the area and whose report has, of Mr. Prasanta pramanik.
“It had been raining in the morning with strong wind… At 11 A.M. I found it difficult to keep the doors and windows of the office downstairs in position. Some of them had already been blown away. Then the cyclone came with unprecedented fury. Within two hours, doors and windows had been blown in ; papers and furniture were floating about and the masonary walls collapsed. The rain was split into fine mist and visibility was 5 yds. It continued with unabated fury till 3 P.M. The wind, having, in the mean while, veered from East to South at about 2 P.M. The surrounding areas were covered with water but we did not know then that it was sea-water and at any rate one could not see much. At 3.15 P.M. it started again with increasing fury and at 9 P.M. showed signs of exhaustion. By 13 midnight the atmosphere was normal. We could only gather that many trees had been uprooted and many houses had been collapsed.”
Here it may be remembered that the office that Mr. Sen describes in his report was housed in a three-storeyed building, once called “Nimak Kuthi or Nim Kuthi”, and that the second floor of the building was destroyed in this very cyclone of 1942.
Mr. Sen’s report, as quoted by Mr. Pramanik in his memoir ‘Romanthan’ continues to narrate what he saw the next day-“In the morning 17.10.42 it was a most unusual site (sight). Not a hut was standing within the miles of Contai. Fields were completely under water and the dead bodies were completely under water and dead bodies were floating on the fringe of the town and many had perished under collapsing huts. Roads were under water, fallen trees and roof-tops [ thatched or corrugated]. Tanks had been filled up with water,huts, trees, animals and men (some floating and some pressed under trees and huts). Death –toll had apparently been heavy but nothing could be seen on the country side which had gone completely under water. Bridges had collapsed or had been washed away, boats had sunk and we were completely cut off. The population had become demoralized and dreaded. The havoc and loss were great enough to leave them completely numbed. Crops, so beautiful and good only 24-hours ago, had completely vanished and it was obvious much food grains had been washed away”.
The extent of loss, according to the Govt. report referred to by Mr. Pramanik in his book are as follows:
i) Thirteen thousand people were killed and many were injured many of whom died in few days on account of inadequacy of medical attendance.
ii) Seventy five percent of the cattle died and no milk for babies,or for women, having just become mothers or going to be so, was available for a good many days.
iii) About a lakh houses were destroyed in addition to innumerable houses which were more or less damaged.
iv) Most of the people had no clothes or warm clothes to put on or bedding to slip on.
v) 60% and 70% crops in Pataspur and Egra police stations was lost respectively, while in other police stations it was lost totally.
vi) No trees stood erect and the loss on this accout was unaccountable.
vii) The communication of all sorts was lost and remained so for a good many days.
viii) Salt –water entered every pond and the problem of the unavailability of drinking water continued remaining unsolved for many days.
ix) The dykes built by Irrigation Department to keep out the sea-water lost its existence in many places, letting in the tidal waves that now regularly entered the paddy-fields and made them unyielding for the next year.
x) Three-fourths of the food-stock was washed away and it was one of the main reasons that caused famine next year.
xi) Land – labourers, fishermen, weavers, carpenters and small shop-keepers become ployless in large number and for many days to come.
xii) Many school – houses kissed the ground.
xiii) Cholera and other epidemics broke out.
xiv) Many children as a result of their parents having been killed in the cyclonem become orphans.
xv) The cattle surviving the cyclonic flood died later without any grazing ground and without any fooer to feed on.
Ramnagar, being nearest to the sea, was the worst – affected P.S. area. The enormity of the casualty here can be easily understood from the single instance of Troilakyanath Pradhan, who alone of a family of twenty seven members survived. The whole P.S. area was a large sprawling necropolis, so to say. In Egra few houses were left standing. Potaspur was under water. Khejuri seemed to be an extended part of the sea. The life of those who did not die immediately was precarious. Bhagawanpur was no exception.
People’s power of endurance was tested to the limit and they passed it with distinction. Their love for freedom was also tested. And in this case too they did not yield.