Cyclone Amphan likely to intensify, hit Bengal soon
Severe cyclonic storm Amphan that has been hovering over the Bay of Bengal intensified to what is classified as a “very severe cyclonic storm” on Sunday, according to authorities monitoring the situation.
The storm was about 960km south of Paradip in Odisha and 1,110km southwest of Digha in West Bengal on Sunday evening. It is expected to further intensify into an “extremely severe cyclonic storm” on Monday. Over the subsequent 12 hours, it will move northwards slowly before recurving north-northeastwards and cross the West Bengal and Bangladesh coasts on May 20 afternoon.
Authorities and local people are staring at a unique situation where evacuation has to be quick and effective in the face of a deadly storm but at the same time social distancing has to be practised and first-line responders protected. Amphan will be a test case of how to handle natural disasters during a pandemic. As the monsoon is set to advance, more exigencies are expected to arise out of urban flooding, landslides and more cyclones—this would mean the need for more rescue shelters and sanitary facilities in them.
When Amphan develops into an “extremely severe cyclonic storm”, the wind speed is expected to be 170-180kmph gusting to touch even 200kmph. The last “extremely severe cyclonic storm” was Fani over the Bay of Bengal which reached its peak intensity on May 3 and mostly impacted the state of Odisha.
The National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) has shared an advisory with all cyclone-prone states on disaster preparedness during Covid-19. “We have underlined that first-line responders like police, state disaster response force, all volunteers engaged in relief work will have to be provided with PPE kits along with N95 masks. Cyclone-prone states like Odisha have a lot of multi-purpose cyclone shelters. But now we can use them to only one-third capacity because social distancing needs to be maintained. So, states have been asked to identify new shelters and buildings,” said Pavan Kumar Singh, joint advisor, NDMA.
“Ministry of Home Affairs holds an annual relief commissioners’ meeting which is scheduled this year for May 20 via video conferencing when more details on monsoon-related disaster preparedness will be discussed,” he added.
“We will announce the location of landfall and pinpoint where evacuation will be needed when we gain more confidence on the exact location. This is because evacuation and relief measures will have to be taken with great precaution keeping in mind the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. Our models are showing that coastal Odisha and Gangetic West Bengal will be impacted. There will be more impact in West Bengal because the very severe cyclonic storm is expected to cross the Sundarban area,” said Sunita Devi, IMD scientist incharge of cyclones.
“Though the cyclone will intensify into an extremely severe cyclonic storm, it may make landfall as a very severe cyclonic storm. There is time to take decisions on where evacuation will be needed. We are tracking the cyclone closely. I am aware that preparatory measures are being taken both in West Bengal and Odisha,” said M Mohapatra, director general of IMD (India Meteorological Department).
West Bengal has three coastal districts – East Midnapore, North 24 Paragans and South 24 Parganas. Authorities have come up with detailed micro-level plans keeping in mind the Covid-19 pandemic and the migrant labourers who are returning and need to be kept in quarantine to prevent any outbreak of the virus. The experience of cyclone Bulbul, which had hit the area in November 2019, have also come in handy in preparing these plans.
“At Sagar Island there are 18 multi-purpose cyclone and flood shelters (two to three-storey buildings where both humans and cattle can be kept during disasters). Seven of these cyclone shelters would be used exclusively as quarantine centres, particularly for the migrant labourers who are returning from other states. We are also increasing the number of shelters by roping in school and college buildings so that there is no crowding in one building,” said a senior official of Sagar block.