Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Nor'wester causes Assam boat mishap death toll may cross 200

Local authorities in western Assam's Dhubri town fear the death toll in Monday's boat mishap on river Brahmaputra may cross the 200 mark. The ill-fated double-decker boat had a carrying capacity of 250 passengers but reportedly had some 500 on board.

Taleb Ali, 42, who swam to safety and saved four others. said "There were at least 500 people on the boat, and I was lucky to have been on the upper deck. Most of the people were in the cage-like lower deck and I fear they were trapped. The death toll will cross 200," he said from Madhertari, nearest to the spot where the boat caught a cyclonic storm and "broke into three pieces".

"The mishap happened barely 50 metres from the bank, and local people beat the rescue teams to the bodies and took their kin's home possibly for the final rites." The boat had set sail from Dhubri town, 287km west of Guwahati on the northern bank of river Brahmaputra in the afternoon."It was heading southeast to Hatsinghimari, a three-hour trip".

Principal Secretary (Revenue and Disaster Management) V.K. Pipersenia, when contacted, said inland ferries in Assam were not equipped with any meteorological device and the entire system was old and traditional. “We will have to take up with the India Meteorological Department the matter of issuing advanced storm warnings on Norwesters to prevent such accidents.”

Eyewitnesses told police the vessel was old and broke in two after capsizing in the swollen river, one of Asia's largest.Hasnat Ali, a passenger, told local television that the boat was tossed about and many of those on the roof were thrown off and managed to swim to shore before the ferry was dashed to pieces.
I managed to cling to a log and was later rescued by local villagers, he said.


During the hot weather period i.e from March to May the eastern and North-eastern states of the subcontinent like West Bengal, Bihar, Assam, Orissa (parts) and Bangladesh experience dramatic appearance of a special type of violent thunderstorm know as Nor’wester.    

In the summer months the atmosphere becomes unstable due to intense insolation. On such days if there is a suitable synoptic situation such as a surface low pressure area over Jharkhand and adjoining districts of Gangetic West Bengal, the cyclonic vorticity reaching up to 1.5 kilometers above sea level with dry air aloft and presence of a jet stream between the levels 300 mb and 200 mb in the vicinity of Gangetic West Bengal are extremely helpful for the occurrence of nor’westers.. 

In Bengal it is known as ‘KalBaisakhi’ or calamity of the month of Baisakh (April,15-May,15). Apart from its destructive effects like sudden rise in wind speed, lightning, thunder  and hail the rainfall associated with the storm although small in amount, is extremely helpful for the pre-Kharif crops like jute, Aus paddy, summer till and a large number of vegetables and fruits and the sudden drop in temperature gives relief after unbearable mid-day heat.   

The dramatic appearance of nor’wester in the afternoon or evening of pre-monsoon months over Bengal, Bihar, Assam and adjoining areas has been a matter of great interest not only to the meteorologists but to all sections of people and has a bright existence in Bengali literature. Famous Bengali poet Mohit Lal Majumder described nor’wester so nicely in his poem “KalBaisakhi” that a meteorologist can hardly do. However, Nor’wester is subject of universal interest for a number of reasons. It not only gives relief after mid-day heat but pours well its crops. Its nature is unique and the causes are really interesting.