In­dia, Bangladesh brace for su­per cy­clone

The Chronicle Herald (Provincial) - - CANADA/WORLD -

KOLKATA, IN­DIA/DHAKA, Bangladesh — In­dia and Bangladesh evac­u­ated around half a mil­lion peo­ple out of the way of the most pow­er­ful storm in a decade ahead of its land­fall on Wed­nes­day amid fears of heavy dam­age to houses and crops and dis­rup­tion of road, rail and power links.

The au­thor­i­ties' task to save lives was com­pli­cated by on­go­ing ef­forts to curb the coro­n­avirus pan­demic and en­force so­cial dis­tanc­ing to avoid a surge of in­fec­tions. Many thou­sands of mi­grant work­ers are on the roads try­ing to get home from big cities after a nationwide lock­down de­stroyed their liveli­hoods.

Ap­proach­ing from the Bay of Ben­gal, su­per cy­clone Am­phan was 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 5 hur­ri­cane.

The In­dian weather depart­ment fore­cast a storm surge of 10- to 16-foot 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.

Au­thor­i­ties were hastily re­pur­pos­ing quar­an­tine fa­cil­i­ties for the loom­ing cy­clone soon after eas­ing the world's big­gest lock­down against the virus, which in In­dia is re­ported to have in­fected more than 100,000 peo­ple and killed 3,163.

Rail­way of­fi­cials di­verted away from the cy­clone's path 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 S.G. Rai told Reuters.

"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. The state cap­i­tal Kolkata lies near the cy­clone's path and there was con­cern about peo­ple liv­ing in about 1,500 old, di­lap­i­dated build­ings.


Neigh­bour­ing Bangladesh, where the cy­clone posed a dev­as­tat­ing threat along a low-ly­ing, marshy coast, was shift­ing hun­dreds of thou­sands of peo­ple to higher ground. Bangladesh­i au­thor­i­ties were also urg­ing use of masks against the virus, which has caused 20,995 in­fec­tions and 314 deaths.

"We have taken nec­es­sary steps so that peo­ple can main­tain dis­tance and wear masks," said Ena­mur Rah­man, the junior min­is­ter for disas­ter man­age­ment. He said 12,000 cy­clone shel­ters were set up to ac­com­mo­date more than five mil­lion peo­ple.

Bangladesh­i of­fi­cials said the cy­clone could set off tidal waves and heavy rain­fall, un­leash­ing floods.

It was ex­pected to hit land be­tween the dis­tricts of Chit­tagong and Khulna, just 150 km 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.


A sci­en­tist at In­dia Me­te­o­ro­log­i­cal Depart­ment Earth Sys­tem Science Or­ga­ni­za­tion points to a sec­tion of the screen show­ing the po­si­tion of Cy­clone Am­phan to me­dia in­side his of­fice in Kolkata, In­dia on Tues­day.

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