Millions flee as powerful cyclone bears down on India, Bangladesh


A potentially catastrophic cyclone is bearing down on India and Bangladesh, threatening to batter portions of the vulnerable countries with howling winds, drenching rain and devastating storm surge.

Cyclone Amphan, now packing winds of up to 142 mph, was forecast to make landfall near India’s West Bengal state and Bangladesh on Wednesday. 

Millions of people are evacuating as the storm approaches, while still trying to practice social distancing due to the coronavirus. 

The storm is following a similar path to one that killed 10,000 people in 1999, said Mrutyunjay Mohapatra, India’s meteorological chief. “This type of cyclone can be disastrous,” Mohapatra said.

Cyclones, which form in the Indian Ocean, are the same type of storm as hurricanes or typhoons. Even though the cyclone’s wind speed may weaken as it nears the coast, forecasters said that won’t reduce the system’s storm-surge danger.

Amphan’s large size and previous extreme intensity will result in an immense amount of water being pushed northward through the Bay of Bengal, the Weather Channel said. That water will funnel into the river deltas near the border between India and Bangladesh.

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“Due to the widespread low elevation across southern Bangladesh and southern West Bengal, coastal flooding will be a major concern as winds push water from the Bay of Bengal onshore,” said AccuWeather senior meteorologist Adam Douty.

Videos and photos from India and Bangladesh showed families near the coast or in other flood-prone areas being evacuated to cyclone shelters. Some carried bags with their belongings, and all had their faces covered to protect against the virus. Officials went from village to village with loudspeakers warning people of the storm.

“Evacuations are necessary,” warned Mohapatra, pointing out that tidal waves could move 15 miles inland along the many rivers that crisscross the Bengal delta. 

India’s Meteorological Department is warning that a storm surge of 13 to 16 feet is possible in low-lying areas near and just east of where Amphan makes landfall.

Debasis Shyamal, a fisherman in Digha, said evacuations had yet to start, but people were staying indoors.

“We are mentally prepared for the cyclone, but there are some concerns about social distancing,” he said.

Contributing: The Associated Press

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