India, Bangladesh evacuate half a million people as villages brace for Cyclone Amphan
India and Bangladesh have evacuated about half a million people out of the way of the most powerful storm in the region in a decade ahead of its expected landfall later today, as authorities fear heavy damage to houses, crops, roads, rail and power links.
- 25 emergency services teams have already been deployed in India
- About 300,000 people have been moved to storm shelters in West Bengal
- Bangladeshi officials said the cyclone could set off tidal waves and heavy rainfall, unleashing floods
Approaching from the Bay of Bengal, Cyclone Amphan is expected to hit the coast of eastern India and southern Bangladesh with winds gusting up to 185 kilometres per hour — the equivalent of a category 4 hurricane.
The Indian weather department has forecast a storm surge of 3- to 5-metre waves — as high as a two-storey house — that could swamp mud dwellings along the coast, uproot communication towers and inundate roads and rail tracks.
There will be extensive damage to standing crops and plantations in the states of West Bengal and Odisha, while large boats and ships could get torn from their moorings, the weather service said in a bulletin late on Tuesday.
India’s Union Minister of Home Affairs Amit Shah said via Twitter that 25 emergency services teams had already been deployed while 12 others were “ready in reserve” and 24 on standby.
The authorities’ task to save lives is complicated by ongoing efforts to curb the coronavirus pandemic and enforce social distancing to avoid a surge of infections.
The world’s biggest lockdown against COVID-19 has recently been eased in India, where more than 100,000 people have been infected and 3,163 have died.
India’s National Disaster Response Force director general Shri Pradha said the response was unprecedented.
“We are dealing with two disasters for the first time,” he said.
“In short, it is a cyclone in the time of COVID-19. So we are facing this dual challenge and we are taking steps accordingly.”
Moving to higher ground
Railway officials have diverted a number of trains carrying thousands of migrant workers to eastern states from the capital New Delhi, where they had lost their jobs due to coronavirus lockdowns.
“We have just about six hours left to evacuate people from their homes and we also have to maintain social-distancing norms,” disaster management official SG Rai said.
“The cyclone could wash away thousands of huts and standing crops.”
About 300,000 people had been moved to storm shelters, West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee said.
Neighbouring Bangladesh, where the cyclone posed a devastating threat along a low-lying, marshy coast, has been shifting hundreds of thousands of people to higher ground.
Bangladeshi authorities were also urging the use of masks against the virus, which has caused 20,995 infections and 314 deaths nationally.
He said 12,000 cyclone shelters were set up to accommodate more than 5 million people.
Bangladeshi officials said the cyclone could set off tidal waves and heavy rainfall, unleashing floods.
It is expected to hit land between the districts of Chittagong and Khulna, just 150 kilometres from refugee camps housing more than a million Rohingya in flimsy shelters.
Aid workers have stockpiled emergency items such as food, tarpaulins and water purification tablets.
“We are really very worried,” said Haiko Magtrayo, a worker of the International Committee of the Red Cross based in the nearby town of Cox’s Bazar.
Hundreds more Rohingya, rescued from boats adrift in the Bay of Bengal, are living on the flood-prone island of Bhasan Char.