India, Bangladesh begin evacuations ahead of ‘super cyclone’ Amphan
New Delhi/Dhaka, May 19 (efe-epa).- India and Bangladesh on Tuesday began evacuating thousands of people from its coast along the Bay of Bengal against the arrival of super cyclonic storm Amphan.
According to the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD), the storm, coming packed with frightening wind-speeds, is likely to make landfall Wednesday evening between Digha in the Indian state of West Bengal and Hatiya islands in Bangladesh.
“This is the most intense cyclone since 1999. At the time of landfall, the wind-speed is expected to be around 155-165 kilometers per hour (95-100 mph), with gusts of up to 185 kph,” IMD Director General Mrutyunjay Mohapatra said in a press conference on Tuesday.
According to the IMD, as of 11.30am Tuesday, Amphan was situated around 630km south-southwest of Digha and moving northwards at a speed of 15 kph. It was expected to pick up speed as it neared the coast.
Authorities have been taking extra precautions while carrying out evacuations, given that the storm comes amid a nationwide lockdown and social distancing measures in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis.
“This is the first time that we are facing two disasters together. A shelter which usually houses 1,000 people, might be able to house only 400-500 people due to social distancing and needs to be sanitized,” said Satya Pradhan, the director general of India’s National Disaster Response Force.
Pradhan said that the NDRF had begun evacuations and stationed 34 emergency teams in the states of West Bengal and Odisha, while seven teams were deployed as reserves.
According to forecasts, West Bengal’s South and North 24 Pargana and East Medinipur districts could witness the strongest wind-speeds, whereas in Odisha, the coastal districts of Balasore, Kendrapara and Bhadrak are expected to be hit the hardest.
The IMD has warned of “large-scale and extensive” damage to structures, apart from the uprooting of telephone and electric poles and trees.
Heavy to very heavy rainfall and storm surges are expected across the path of the cyclone, which is expected to move across Bangladesh to further north as it weakens.
The Bangladeshi authorities said that they had begun evacuating people in remote areas.
“It’s tough to predict how many people we would be required to evacuate. But for last two major cyclones we had to evacuate around two million people,” Mohammad Mohsin, director general of the Disaster Management Department, told EFE.
Mohsin said that apart from regular cyclone shelters, they were also using local schools and colleges across 19 coastal districts as makeshift shelters to maintain social distancing amid the coronavirus epidemic.
Amphan could become the most powerful cyclone in the Bay of Bengal – prone to these storms during April-May and October-November – since a devastating super-cyclone in 1999 killed more than 9,000 people in Odisha.
Since then, advanced technology and warning systems have helped authorities bring down casualties drastically.
In November, at least four people were killed by the Cyclone Bulbul, which affected both India and Bangladesh, while in May 2019 Cyclone Phani left at least 14 dead in the two countries. EFE-EPA