Super-cyclone “Amphan”, the Bay of Bengal’s strongest storm since 1999, has forced mass evacuations this week in North East India and Bangladesh, with torrential rain, high winds and forecasts of a deadly storm surge.
Amphan, which made landfall on the afternoon of May 20, was described the previous day by the World Meteorogical Organisation (WMO) as a Super Cyclonic Storm, “the equivalent of a strong Category 4/weak Category 5 on the Saffir Simpson scale which would make landfall as an Extremely severe cyclonic storm (strong Category 3 equivalent), bringing dangerous winds, storm surge and flooding to coastal areas of West Bengal in India and Bangladesh”.
Millions have been evacuated in anticipation of the storm hitting densely populated areas at a time when restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic is complicating disaster management – and making it more necessary than ever before.
The Indian Meteorological Department has warned of a storm surge of up to 4-5 meters above astronomical tide that is likely to inundate low-lying areas of West Bengal during landfall, and of about 2.5 - 3.5 meters for Bangladesh, adding that Amphan would make landfall with maximum sustained windspeed of 155-165 km/hour, gusting to 185 km/hour and torrential rainfall, between Digha (West Bengal) and Hatiya Islands (Bangladesh), close to the Sundarbans national park area.
Indian Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi has chaired a high-level meeting to review the response preparedness and the evacuation plan presented by the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF).
UN humanitarian agencies stepped up preparations in the Rohingya refugee settlements of Cox’s Bazar, home to approximately 1.2 million refugees and host community members.
“Communities are already vulnerable to the devastating health crisis and we know that if people are forced to seek communal shelter, they will be unable to maintain physical distancing and run the risk of contracting or transmitting the disease”, said the International Organization for Migration, which cited government statistics that, as of 18 May, five cases of coronavirus have been confirmed in the refugee population at Cox’s Bazar, based on 140 tests.
The UN said food, tarpaulins and water purification tablets have been stockpiled, while authorities said refugees could be moved to sturdier buildings if needed.