‘Super cyclone’ bears down on Bangladesh, India
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by Sam Jahan with Dibyanshu Sarkar in Digha, India
Several million people were taking shelter and praying for the best on Wednesday as the Bay of Bengal’s fiercest cyclone in decades roared towards Bangladesh and eastern India, with forecasts of a potentially devastating and deadly storm surge.
Authorities have scrambled to evacuate low lying areas in the path of Amphan, which is only the second “super cyclone” to form in the northeastern Indian Ocean since records began.
But their efforts have been hampered by the need to follow strict precautions to prevent the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, with infection numbers still soaring in both countries.
“At least 50 people took shelter in my concrete-built house. They came last evening. We gave them food,” Abdur Rahim, a Bangladeshi shrimp farmer on the edge of the Sundarbans mangrove forest told AFP.
“There is panic. The women are worried… A few months ago Cyclone Bulbul smashed our village, destroying at least 100 homes. We hope Allah will save us this time.”
Early Wednesday the vast weather system — visible from space — was 125 kilometres (80 miles) offshore with gusts up to 200 kilometres per hour (125 mph), the equivalent of a category three hurricane, the Indian Meteorological Department said.
It was expected to ease slightly but still pack a ferocious punch when it crosses the coasts of West Bengal state and neighbouring Bangladesh on Wednesday “afternoon to evening” with gusts up to 185 kph.
Bangladeshi forecasters said it would hit around 6:00 pm (1200 GMT), with a potential storm surge up to five metres (15 feet).
The storm could “cause large-scale and extensive damage”, said the head of India’s weather office Mrutyunjay Mohapatra, with a surge of several metres.
Storm surges can force a wall of water to cascade several kilometres inland, and are often the biggest killers in any cyclone, typhoon or hurricane.
Sanjib Banerjee from West Bengal weather office said that parts of Kolkata could see “severe damage”. Early Wednesday the sky there was ominously grey. At the coast it was raining and the sea rough.
“We have mobilised more than 20,000 policemen, emergency workers and volunteers, boats and buses to evacuate around 300,000 people from coastal villages,” state premier Mamata Banerjee said.
“It’s a very difficult task when the state is combating the coronavirus pandemic,” she said. (AFP)