Mass evacuation as ‘monster cyclone’ intensifies in India, Bangladesh

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Authorities in India and Bangladesh evacuated hundreds of thousands of people on Tuesday as a powerful cyclone over the Bay of Bengal moved towards the countries’ coastal areas.

Cyclone Amphan is forecast to make landfall between West Bengal and Bangladesh on Wednesday afternoon, according to dpa international.

Meteorologists are warning of large-scale damage from strong winds, tidal waves, heavy rains and flooding, including in the densely populated city of Kolkata.

On landfall, the “very severe” cyclone could reach speeds of between 155 and 160 kilometres per hour (kph) with gusts of up to 185 kph, according to Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) head Mrutyunjay Mohapatra.

In Bangladesh, 12,000 centres had been opened to shelter 2.2 million people as Amphan was only 665 kilometres away from the southern Payra maritime port, State Minister for Disaster Management Enamur Rahman said.

The large numbers of shelters was to ensure sufficient distance between people in light of the outbreak of the novel coronavirus. School and government buildings would also be used to temporarily accommodate the evacuees.

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In India’s West Bengal, around 300,000 people were evacuated to relief shelters from three coastal districts, state chief minister Mamata Banerjee said adding authorities were on high alert and had made all necessary precautionary arrangements.

In Odisha, more than 30,000 people were evacuated, according to the state’s disaster control room. Up to 100,000 could be moved by Wednesday morning.

With speeds of up to 240 kph, Amphan was classed as a super cyclone, only the second to form in the region in two decades, before it started losing intensity on Tuesday, the IMD said.

Low-lying coastal areas and offshore islands may experience water surge of up to 3 metres above the normal tide.

The storm is likely to cause extensive damage to standing crops, plantations and orchards, uproot trees and topple power and communication lines, it said.

Authorities in Odisha and West Bengal had already suspended rail and road traffic and warned fishermen to stay stay off the coasts.

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Amphan hits India as lockdown restrictions remain in place to stem the spread of coronavirus, presenting a “dual challenge,” said SN Pradhan, head of the National Disaster Response Force.

Forty teams or 2,000 NDRF staff had been deployed to deal with the emergency situation, Pradhan said, adding Amphan is a “second disaster coming amid the Covid-19 pandemic” that needed continuous monitoring.

Footage on television channels showed police and disaster management officials urging locals to evacuate areas, while urging them to wear masks and ensure physical distancing in shelters.

NDRF officials said they were wearing protective gear and said masks and sanitizers were being supplied to the evacuees.

Cyclones often form over the Bay of Bengal between April and November, bringing widespread destruction and flooding to Indian and Bangladeshi coastal areas.

In 1999, a super cyclone hit Odisha, claiming 10,000 lives and leaving 15 million homeless.

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