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Home CORONAVIRUS India prepares to evacuate a million as Cyclone Amphan nears

India prepares to evacuate a million as Cyclone Amphan nears

India is preparing to evacuate more than a million people, with a “super-cyclone” due to hit the country this week and cause devastation in vulnerable areas.

The Indian states of West Bengal and Odisha, as well as coastal areas of Bangladesh, have been put on high alert over Cyclone Amphan, which is gathering strength as it moves across the Bay of Bengal and is due to make landfall on Wednesday.

Heavy rains, storm surges and high winds with speeds of up to 115mph are expected to pummel the east Indian and Bangladesh coast, causing flooding and power outages and uprooting homes and crops.

In Odisha, preparations have begun to evacuate 1.1 million people living in vulnerable and low-lying areas, while more than 550 cyclone shelters have been prepared and 7,000 concrete buildings identified to house evacuees.

The Indian meteorological department advised fishermen not to “venture into the south Bay of Bengal during the next 24 hours, and north Bay of Bengal from 18-20 May”.

On Monday, SN Pradhan, the director general of the Indian National Disaster Response Force (NDRF), said Amphan “will turn into a very severe cyclonic storm by this evening and continue to be so for some time.

“A total of 37 teams have been deployed by NDRF in West Bengal and Odisha, out of which 20 teams are actively deployed and 17 are on standby in the two states,” said Pradhan. He acknowledged that the super-cyclone presented a “dual challenge” alongside the coronavirus pandemic, which complicated housing arrangements for evacuees. Physical distancing is needed to prevent the rampant spread of the virus. India has more than 90,000 reported cases of the virus, with about 3,000 deaths.

The prime minister, Narendra Modi, held a high-level meeting on Monday afternoon to discuss preparations for the storm. “I pray for everyone’s safety and assure all possible support from the central government,” Modi tweeted afterwards.

The Covid-19 lockdown which was imposed across India from 24 March has meant that thousands of migrant workers have moved back from big cities to their home villages, particularly across West Bengal and Odisha. Most returnees have been placed in quarantine centres which are now at risk from the super-cyclone. The Odisha government said it would relocate thousands of migrant workers currently lodging in coastal quarantine centres.

In Bangladesh, the super-cyclone is expected to cause heavy rains and possible flooding in the Cox’s Bazar refugee camps, which are home to more than a million refugees. The camps reported their first case of Covid-19 last week. Aid agencies have warned it will be very difficult to contain there, and could have swift and disastrous consequences.

Cyclone Amphan will be the first super-cyclonic storm to hit the region for more than 20 years. In 1999, a super-cyclone hit the coast of Odisha, killing more than 9,000 people.


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