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Bangladesh, India brace for Amphan – biggest cyclone in 20 years – Al Jazeera English

India and Bangladesh evacuated millions of people from the path of the most powerful storm in 20 years, which is expected to hit on Wednesday evening and has raised fears of extensive damage to houses and crops.

The authorities’ move to save lives was complicated by continuing efforts to curb the coronavirus pandemic and enforce social distancing.

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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 (115 miles per hour) – weakening from the equivalent of a Category 5 hurricane.

Al Jazeera’s Tanvir Chowdhury, reporting from Bangladeshi capital Dhaka, said the cyclone was expected to land on the South Asian nation’s southeastern coastal belt about 6pm local time.

He said 1.4 million people have been evacuated and put into shelter but at least 46,000 people remained in the clear line of danger on some of the islands in the coastal areas.

“There is accommodation for at least five million people and there is medical team, rescue operation team, coastguard and the navy have been put on alert and standby in the coastal areas,” he said. 

“This would be one of the biggest cyclones so they are taking it very seriously.”

The Indian weather department forecast a storm surge of 10 to 16-foot (3-4 metre) waves – as high as a two-storey house – that could swamp mud dwellings along the coast, uproot communication towers and inundate roads and railway tracks.

There will be extensive damage to standing crops and plantations in the states of West Bengal and Odisha, 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 coronavirus. India has reported more than 100,000 cases with 3,163 deaths.

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.

Kolkata was battered by heavy rain and the muddy Hooghly River was rising under dark skies, while in the coastal resort of Digha, large waves were pounding the shore.

Khulna, Bangladesh

A Cyclone Preparedness Programme (CPP) volunteer uses a megaphone to urge residents to evacuate to shelters ahead of the expected landfall of cyclone Amphan in Khulna, Bangladesh on Tuesday [Kazi Shanto/ AFP]

Rohingya refugees vulnerable

In neighbouring Bangladesh, 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 (93 miles) from refugee camps housing more than a million Rohingya in flimsy shelters.

The UN said food, tarpaulins and water purification tablets had been stockpiled, while authorities said the refugees would be moved to sturdier buildings if needed.

“We are fully prepared. But right now, there is no need to take them to cyclone shelters,” said Mahbub Alam Talukder, Bangladesh’s refugee commissioner.

Authorities in Bangladesh have also moved hundreds of Rohingya refugees living on a flood-prone island in the Bay of Bengal to storm shelters as the super cyclone barrels down.

The eastern edge of the storm headed for Bangladesh and neighbouring India is expected to batter Bhasan Char island, where 306 Rohingya, members of a persecuted minority from Myanmar, were sent this month after being rescued from boats.

“Each block has a cyclone centre and they have been moved to the centre,” said Bimal Chakma, a senior official of the Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commission.

The United Nations has called for the refugees to be moved to the mainland to join more than a million more who live in sprawling camps outside the town of Cox’s Bazar.

Bangladesh’s low-lying coast, home to 30 million people, and India’s east are regularly battered by cyclones that have claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of people in recent decades.

The eastern Indian state of Odisha was hit by a super cyclone that left nearly 10,000 dead in 1999, eight years after a typhoon, tornadoes and flooding killed 139,000 in Bangladesh. In 1970, Cyclone Bhola killed half a million people.

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Bangladesh India

India and Bangladesh brace for the strongest storm ever recorded in the Bay of Bengal – CNN

(CNN)Millions of people in India and Bangladesh are in the path of a super cyclone which is due to make landfall in less than 36 hours, bringing damaging winds and heavy rain to a region already struggling with the coronavirus pandemic.

Super Cyclone Amphan became the strongest storm ever recorded in the Bay of Bengal on Monday night, after intensifying with sustained wind speeds of up to 270 kilometers per hour (165 miles per hours), according to data from the US Joint Typhoon Warning Center.
Amphan has weakened slightly since, but the storm is still the equivalent of a strong Category 4 Atlantic hurricane, or a super typhoon in the West Pacific, with winds speeds up to 240 kph (150 mph).
The Bay of Bengal, in the northeastern part of the Indian Ocean, is positioned between India to the west and northwest, Bangladesh to the north, and Myanmar to the east.
Amphan is just the second super cyclone to hit the Bay of Bengal since records began. During the last super cyclone in 1999, nearly 15,000 villages were affected and almost 10,000 people were killed.
The super cyclone is due to make landfall on the India Bangladesh border on Wednesday evening, near the Indian city of Kolkata which is home to more than 14 million people

Mass evacuations planned

Indian officials said that up to 300,000 people in the coastal areas of West Bengal and Odisha are in immediate danger from the storm. Evacuations are underway in the region, according to the country’s ministry of home affairs.
Satya Narayan Pradhan, Director General of the National Disaster Relief Force (NDRF) said in the state of West Bengal there is normally room in cyclone shelters for 500,000 people but because of social distancing rules due to the coronavirus epidemic, that number had been reduced by more than half to just 200,000.
Some buses have been arranged, he said, but many will be walking to the emergency shelters.
Pradhan added that the areas under threat from the cyclone were comparatively less developed, with many villagers in temporary homes with thatched or tin roofs. “That is going to be in the line of fire,” he said.
In Bangladesh, Disaster Management Junior Minister Enamur Rahman said they were planning to move about two million people from coastal areas to more than 12,000 cyclone shelters.
According to the Bangladesh Disaster Management Ministry’s senior information official Selim Hossain, there is capacity for 9.1 million people to be safety housed in cyclone shelters while maintaining social distancing.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi reviewed the country’s emergency response measures on Monday night, ahead of the storm’s landfall in India.
NDRF Director General Pradhan previously said 25 NDRF teams have been deployed to the region, with 12 others ready in reserve, and 24 other teams are also on standby in different parts of India.
Fishermen have been warned to remain onshore and not sail out for the next 24 hours by the Indian Meteorological Department.
Following the meeting, Modi said on his official Twitter account that evacuation plans had been discussed, as well as other emergency response measures.
“I pray for everyone’s safety and assure all possible support from the Central Government,” he said.

Coronavirus pandemic

The storm comes as both India and Bangladesh struggle to bring local coronavirus outbreaks under control. India passed more than 100,000 confirmed infections on Monday, according to Johns Hopkins University, recording its largest single-day surge yet with a total of 5,242 new cases.
Meanwhile Bangladesh’s infection count is rapidly rising, with more than 1,300 new cases on Sunday, its biggest rise yet. In total, the country has recorded 23,870 confirmed infections, according to Johns Hopkins.
Tackling both disasters at once will be challenging for the two governments, especially if they attempt to maintain social distancing in packed evacuation centers and emergency shelters.
“(All NDRF workers) have to be masked, everyone has to wear visor, gloves … It’s almost certain that they will be going to do rescue work in red (heavily-infected) zones … They may be actually rescuing people who are already infected. It is a double challenge,” NDRF Director General Pradhan said.
Pradeep Jena, special relief commissioner for India’s Odisha State, said emergency services had to balance saving lives from the cyclone with saving lives from the coronavirus.
“We have to strike a balance between the two and evacuate people wherever it is extremely essential, otherwise people are better off in their own homes,” he said.
Jena said in evacuation centers, they were trying to keep the elderly and pregnant women separate from the rest of the population and were working hard to obtain adequate soap for the shelters.
“Social distancing is definitely a very good concept but enforcing it in the strictest possible manner in a disaster situation may not always be possible,” he said.
Cyclone Amphan could also bring heavy rains to the world’s largest refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar, where almost 1 million Rohingya refugees live after fleeing violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine state.
The first known Covid-19 cases were confirmed in the camp last week and with the storm now imminent, the two disasters could make for a devastating combination.
One human rights advocate said that a novel coronavirus outbreak in the camp would be a “nightmare scenario.”
“The prevalence of underlying health conditions among refugees and the deteriorating sanitary conditions sure to come with the looming monsoon and flooding season make for a witch’s brew of conditions in which the virus is sure to thrive,” said Daniel P. Sullivan, who works for the US-based organization Refugees International.

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