India and Bangladesh have begun evacuating more than two million people as a cyclone barrelled towards their coasts, with officials racing to ready shelters amid fears of coronavirus contagion in cramped facilities.
Indian forecasters said Cyclone Amphan had reached winds of up to 240 kilometres (145 miles) per hour with gusts of 265 kph over the Bay of Bengal late on Monday, ahead of the expected landfall on Wednesday.
Amphan is predicted to weaken before it hits India’s eastern states and Bangladesh’s south and southwestern coasts, but still pack winds of up to 200 kph, said India’s National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) chief SN Pradhan.
“The landfall wind speed are going to be 195-200 kph in residential areas. it’ll cause severe damage to life and property,” Pradhan said at a press conference , adding that low-lying areas were also bracing for tidal waves.
The Indian Meteorological Department said during a bulletin that it could cross the coasts on Wednesday evening with sustained wind speeds of up to 175 kph and gusts of 195 kph.
Heavy rain and high-velocity winds
Such wind speeds are equivalent in strength to a Category 2 or 3 hurricane, and would make Amphan one among the most important storms to return off the Indian Ocean in recent years.
The cyclone, expected to form landfall on Wednesday, comes as India eased the world’s longest lockdown, imposed in April against the coronavirus which has infected quite 96,169 people and killed 3,029.
Bangladesh officials also warned it could become the worst storm to hit the region since Cyclone Sidr in November 2007, which killed quite 3,000 people.
Bangladesh disaster management secretary Shah Kamal said up to 2 million residents from low-lying areas would be evacuated from Tuesday, he said, adding that that they had the capacity to shelter quite five million evacuees.
A record 12,078 shelters, including 7,000 schools and colleges, were being readied to avoid crowding amid fears of the virus spreading, Kamal said.
Evacuees would be required to wear masks and encouraged to wear gloves while within the shelters, he added.
In India, quite 200,000 people in low-lying areas are going to be moved from their homes in West Bengal by Tuesday, state minister Manturam Phakira told AFP.
The cyclone would bring “heavy rain and high-velocity winds” to coastal West Bengal and Odisha states, GK Das of the Regional Meteorological Centre in India’s eastern city of Kolkata told AFP press agency .
An official at Odisha’s cyclone room said shelters would be prepared for up to 1.1 million people, although the world is predicted to flee the brunt of the storm and fewer than 10 percent of capacity would likely be used.
Authorities at the port of Paradip in Odisha ordered ships to maneuver bent sea to avoid damage. “Operations are wound down,” Rinkesh Roy, chairman of the Paradip Port Trust, told Reuters press agency . “We are clearing the port.”
Pradhan, the NDRF chief, said earlier on Monday that quite 1,500 disaster response personnel – 20 active and 17 standby teams – were being deployed within the two states to tackle the “double challenge” of the cyclone and therefore the coronavirus.
Bangladesh’s low-lying coast, home to 30 million people and India’s east are regularly battered by cyclones that have killed many thousands of individuals in recent decades.
The cyclone season usually runs from April to December, with severe storms forcing the evacuations of tens of thousands, causing widespread death and damage to crops and property in India and neighbouring Bangladesh.
In 1999, Odisha was hit by a super-cyclone that left nearly 10,000 dead. In 1991, the mixture of a typhoon, tornadoes and flooding kill 139,000 people in Bangladesh.
While the storms’ frequency and intensity have increased – partly thanks to global climate change – the death tolls have come down due to faster evacuations and therefore the building of thousands of coastal shelters.