India, Bangladesh brace for cyclone in the midst of pandemic

NEW DELHI (AP) — A strong cyclone was moving toward India and Bangladesh yesterday as authorities were trying to evacuate millions of people while maintaining social distancing.

Amphan is expected to make landfall today, and forecasters warned of extensive damage from high winds, heavy rainfall, tidal waves and some flooding in crowded cities like Kolkata.

The cyclone had winds of 220-230 kilometres per hour and is forecast to weaken before landfall around India’s West Bengal state and Bangladesh.

It is the second super cyclone on record that has formed over the Bay of Bengal, said India’s Meteorological Chief Mrutyunjay Mohapatra. The first of that classification was the devastating 1999 cyclone in Odisha state that left nearly 10,000 dead.

“This type of cyclone can be disastrous…It is completely unsafe,” Mohapatra said.

Volunteers urge people to evacuate to shelters ahead of the expected landfall of Cyclone Amphan in Khulna, Bangladesh. PHOTO: AFP

Amphan’s winds are whirling 700 kilometres from its eye as it approaches land. It’s forecast to pass between the seaside resort town of Digha in India’s West Bengal state and Hatiya Island in Bangladesh with a weaker wind speed of 165 to 175kph.

Several districts of West Bengal will be most impacted by the storm, said Mohapatra, warning of uprooted trees, electric poles and damage to old or temporary housing.

Flooding was a risk in Kolkata due to crowding and poor drainage and the storm surge would raise river levels in the Bengal delta, he said.

The Meteorological Department in the Bangladesh said the cyclone could flood vast spans in southwestern and southern Bangladesh from tidal waves four to five feet higher than normal, along with heavy rainfall and high wind speeds.

Bangladesh authorities have asked maritime ports to maintain danger signal up to seven while 19 coastal districts and their offshore islands were also at the risk of severe destruction. Fishing trawlers and boats in Bay of Bengal have been asked to take shelter until further notice.