India and Bangladesh waiting for one of the worst storms of the decade

In Bangladesh, where the coming storm is expected to be the most powerful storm since Cyclone Sidr killed some 3,500 people in 2007, about two million people have already been evacuated and 12,078 cyclone centres set up. In India, where West Bengal is expected to be the most affected, police said many people are unwilling to go to shelters fearing contracting COVID-19.

 


Delhi (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Heavy rains and winds have already been reported lashing eastern India and Bangladesh as Cyclone Amphan approaches the Gulf of Bengal, and is expected to make landfall within hours.

Amphan is one of the biggest cyclonic storms in a decade, meteorologists warn. It is expected to hit the coast with winds travelling at 185 km/h, the equivalent of a category five hurricane.

While wind speed will likely drop slightly before the cyclone hits the coast, in India, the country’s weather department is predicting a water surge of 3-to-5 metres.

The cyclone is expected to make land fall near the city of Khulna, in south-western Bangladesh. It is feared that it will be the most powerful storm since Cyclone Sidr killed some 3,500 people in 2007, mostly from storm waves.

Bangladesh has already evacuated about 2 million people, setting up 12,078 cyclone centres, State Minister for Disaster Management and Relief Enamur Rahman said. This is twice as many as before in order to keep social distancing during the coronavirus epidemic. Displaced people will also be provided with masks.

"Earlier we had around 5,000 cyclone centre[s] and this time we will [have] more than 12,000 this is how we will maintain social distancing in the shelters," he explained.

Rahman also claimed that the evacuation of Cox's Bazar, the area with nearly a million Rohingya refugees, "is not important" as the danger level is 6, manageable.

There are “many cyclone centre[s] around the Rohingya camps,” he noted, adding that “if the direction of cyclone changes toward Cox's Bazar and Chittagong, then they would be evacuated."

The coronavirus epidemic is making evacuation more difficult in India and Bangladesh. In both countries, schools and other buildings have been be turned into temporary shelters, but accommodating people whilst maintaining social distancing is a challenge.

West Bengal expects to be badly affected by the storm. Local police report that many people are unwilling to go to shelters fearing contagion.

In India, the cyclone comes at a time when thousands of migrant workers have fled the cities for their villages during the country’s lockdown to counter the spread of the coronavirus.

West Bengal and Odisha are among the Indian states with the largest number of returnees. Odisha cancelled trains that were supposed to bring thousands of migrants.

Some district officials have barred entry and called on the state government to accommodate migrants elsewhere until the storm passes.

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