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Hailstorm drives villagers home, out of reach of twister fury AMIT UKIL Joypur (Bankura), April 19: Over 25,000 residents of 14 villages in the Joypur and Kotulpur blocks of Bankura are still reeling from the tornado that hit them on Thursday evening, this time from the

aftershock as the extent of devastation and the costs of rebuilding sink in.

The hailstorm preceding the ferocious twister was providential, they say, as it forced them indoors and saved them from being blown away and battered about. "Buckets of water in hand, we were about to set out to the column of smoke, thinking the tornado was a fire," said Gholam Nabi, a resident of Bikrampur village, about 35 km east of Bishnupur. "Then, huge pieces of hail began raining down and we rushed indoors. That saved us. Had we been in the open, God knows where we would have been swept off and in how many pieces." Not a single one of the 86 houses in Nabi's village has the first floor and roof intact. Not all were lucky. Forty one-year-old Sabita Chorchori of Dharshayer village had shut the windows of her home and gone to the main door to look where her husband Shaktipada had gone. She noticed that the windows of the outhouse were open and went to close them. "One moment I saw her shutting them, and the next moment she was gone," said a bewildered and shocked Shantanu, Sabita's elder son.

The twister had swooped through the courtyard, hauled her off her feet and tossed her 30 metres away against an electricity pole. Such was the force that the impact crushed her head and lungs.

"When the ghurni waned a minute later, I rushed to her. She was unconscious and bleeding from

the nose and mouth. I knew she was gone, her life taken away by a supernatural force of nature,"

sobbed Shantanu. Sabita is the only confirmed victim of the freak storm. "We have heard about another death, this time a male, but not yet found the body or located his village," said Bishnupur sub-divisional officer Kaushik Hazra. He said over 100 people were hurt, 26 of whom are being treated for serious injuries in four hospitals in the region.

A visit to six of the storm-tossed villages in Joypur revealed the awesome power of the tornado.

The twister had "mysteriously risen from the expansive forest" next to Aima village around 4.10 pm, said a villager. "It moved swiftly in a conical whirl and took a drun- ken path, sometimes cross- ing the same place twice but generally taking a north-easterly direction," he said.

The twister swept through Poraidih, Kulshayer, Dharshayer, Hijoldiha, Nachur and Bikrampur in

Joypur, and then Ashinkota, Gopinathpur, Borogopinathpur, Narayanpur and Chak Mohamad in

Kotulpur. "We got to know of two more affected villages yesterday and of more families rendered homeless," said Hazra.