- Cyclone Amphan struck Kolkata on Wednesday evening. 72 people have died so far.
- The cyclone is the fiercest to have struck the city in over 200 years. Kolkata last saw a cyclone in 2009.
- Prime Minister Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah have tweeted to show their support and have deployed the NDRF to the affected areas.
Calcuttans are turning to videos and images on WhatsApp to understand the extent of damage caused by cyclone Amphan that ravaged parts of the city, leaving 72 people dead as of this afternoon. Chief Minister Mamata Banarjee repeatedly mentioned she was shocked to see the extent of damage in a press conference she hosted immediately after the storm had passed late last evening.
The cyclone struck the city late afternoon but torrential rains for nearly two hours in the evening inflicted damage like the city has never seen before. Many Calcuttans have not had electricity for the last twenty hours, and it's still unclear when lines will be repaired again. TV cables have been cut off. News channels are not being able to broadcast information.
As a result, citizens are documenting the impact of the storm on their phones. Whatsapp is awash with pictures of uprooted trees, shattered rooftops, broken cables, and so on. Two images —both of which began circulating on WhatsApp—have gone particularly viral. One is an image that shows rainwater up to the bonnet of taxis parked along a road and the other is an image that shows a collapsed hangar at the Kolkata airport.
A friend sent me this photo of Calcutta right now. Very worried for family and loved ones there. pic.twitter.com/4QSGPTZEIy— Ishaan Tharoor (@ishaantharoor) May 20, 2020
Air India hangar collapses at Kolkata airport in cyclonic rain.. airport flooded.. prayers with people of city and Bengal.. pic.twitter.com/3mCHHEg71f— Rajdeep Sardesai (@sardesairajdeep) May 21, 2020
But not everyone is able to access these videos since phone data isn't working well, either. Airtel has not been working since last night, and Vodafone has been working sparsely. Residents and families are relying on one another's phone to see the extent of the damage.
The way in which information is circulating on the platform shows just how much residents—and Indians—have come to rely on WhatsApp. It has altered the way in which Indians communicate and respond to the events around them. While the app is often criticized for being way too distracting, it has emerged as a savior for those looking to fill the gaps between what they're seeing and what is really happening across the state in the aftermath of the storm.
It is an irony that apps that strive to make people more lonely and hooked to their phones somehow end up doing the opposite during times of crisis. The extent of damage—from the cyclone and the way in which we interact with technology—is yet to be determined.