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Super cyclone Amphan is bearing down on India and Bangladesh, causing the urgent evacuations of around half a million people. These residents were moved out of the way of the most powerful storm in a decade ahead of its landfall on Wednesday.
There are fears Amphan will wreak heavy damage to houses and crops and cause upheaval to road, rail and power links.
The authorities’ task to save lives has been 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 warm waters of 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 kmh (115 mph) – the equivalent of a category five hurricane.
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At the time of writing, the Joint Typhoon Warning Centre (JTWC) place Amphan approximately 311 miles (271 nautical miles) south-southwest of Kolkata, India, and is moving at a rate of nine knots over the past six hours.
Satellite images show Amphan has become more symmetrical and has maintained a deep, cold convection.
The Indian weather department forecast a storm surge of 10 to 16-foot waves – as high as a two-storey house.
These waves could swamp mud dwellings along the coast, uproot communication towers and inundate roads and rail tracks.
There will also be extensive damage to standing crops and farming areas 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 have been repurposing quarantine facilities for the cyclone soon after easing the world’s biggest lockdown against the virus.
In India, coronavirus is reported to have infected more than 100,000 people and killed 3,163.
Railway officials have also diverted 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.
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Disaster management official S.G. Rai said: “We have just about six hours left to evacuate people from their homes and we also have to maintain social distancing norms.
“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.
In neighbouring Bangladesh, where the cyclone poses a devastating threat along a low-lying, marshy coast, hundreds of thousands of people have been moved to higher ground.
Bangladeshi authorities were also urging use of masks against the virus, which has caused 20,995 infections and 314 deaths.
Enamur Rahman, the junior minister for disaster management said: “We have taken necessary steps so that people can maintain distance and wear masks.”
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.
Amphan 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.
Aid workers have stockpiled emergency items such as food, tarpaulins and water purification tablets.
Hundreds more Rohingya, rescued from boats adrift in the Bay of Bengal, are living on the flood-prone island of Bhasan Char.
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