Many killed as Cyclone Amphan tears into India, Bangladesh coasts
A powerful cyclone has pounded eastern India and Bangladesh, killing at least 88 people and destroying thousands of homes on Wednesday, 20 May 2020, officials said, leaving authorities struggling to mount relief efforts amid a surging coronavirus outbreak. At least 72 people were killed in West Bengal state alone and two more deaths were reported in neighbouring Odisha, according to the state Government. Most of the deaths in India were blamed on trees falling on people or wind and water collapsing homes. Amphan made landfall on West Bengal near the Sundarbans between Digha and Hatiya at 14h30 on 20 May 2020, buffeting the region with strong winds and heavy rains. The cyclone produced sustained winds of 112km/h and gusts to 190km/h in West Bengal, damaging homes and uprooting trees and electric poles. In Sri Lanka the cyclone produced heavy rainfall and strong winds while intensifying east of the island, affecting some 2 000 people and triggering floods and landslides. Damaging effects began in Bangladesh prior to the landfall of Amphan as coastal water levels rose. Collapsed embankments led to the inundation of 17 villages across Galachipa, Kalapara and Rangabali.
“The situation is more worrying than the coronavirus pandemic. We don't know how to handle it,” Mamata Banerjee, chief minister of West Bengal, the worst-hit Indian state, told reporters late on Wednesday. Banerjee said two districts been completely battered by one of the strongest storms to hit the region in several years. “Area after area has been devastated. Communications are disrupted,” she said, adding that although 500 000 people had been evacuated, state authorities had not entirely anticipated the ferocity of the storm.
In West Bengal's capital city, Kolkata, strong winds upturned cars and felled trees and electricity poles. Parts of the city were plunged into darkness. In neighbouring Bangladesh, at least four people were killed, officials said, with power supplies cut off in some districts.
Authorities there had shifted around 2,4 million people to more than 15 000 storm shelters. Bangladeshi officials also said they had moved hundreds of Rohingya refugees from Myanmar, living on a flood-prone island in the Bay of Bengal, to shelter. The region, with 58 million people in the two bordering countries, has some of the most vulnerable communities in South Asia: poor fishing communities in the Sunderbans and over a million Rohingya refugees living in crowded camps in Cox's Bazar in Bangladesh.
Cyclone Amphan began moving inland with winds gusting up to 185kph, Mrutyunjay Mohapatra, director general of the India Meteorological Department, told reporters. Mohapatra said the storm surge could rise to around five metres in the Sundarbans delta, home to around four million people. “Our estimate is that some areas 10-15 kilometres from the coast could be inundated,” Mohapatra said.
Coconut trees swayed wildly, electric poles lay scattered on the roads of Kolkata, rain pounded fishing villages and rivers surged as the storm battered the coast.
In preparation for the cyclone, the Bangladesh Cyclone Preparedness Programme and National Disaster Response Coordination Group convened on 18 May 2020 to outline preparations for Amphan. Several non-governmental agencies coordinated with the Cyclone Preparedness Programme to support Rohingya refugees at camps in Cox's Bazar during Amphan. The Department of Public Health Engineering distributed sanitation supplies and set up 15 water treatment plants. All 32 Rohingya camps in Cox's Bazar were staffed with relief volunteers. Health services in Bangladesh during the storm were reinforced by 1 933 medical teams distributed around Bangladesh. 15 000 volunteers and 284 medical teams were prepared to render aid around Chittagong. According to Inter-Services Public Relations, 145 disaster management teams from the Bangladesh Armed Forces were placed on standby with special equipment. The Bangladesh Army deployed 71 medical teams and arranged 18 400 packets and relief materials in preparation for Amphan's aftermath. 25 ships were dispatched by the Bangladesh Navy to handle emergency, rescue and relief operations, with aerial support from the Bangladesh Air Force. The Ministry of Agriculture of Bangladesh advised coastal farmers to harvest all mature paddy fields to mitigate the estimated loss of 12 percent of crop yield. 7 000 domestic animals were also moved to shelter under the direction of the Ministry of Fisheries and Livestock.
Approximately 4,2 million people were evacuated in coastal India and Bangladesh, with roughly two million from India and 2,2 million from Bangladesh. Most of the evacuations in India occurred in West Bengal. Over a million people were evacuated from areas near the Bangladesh–India border. Around 4 000 personnel from the SDRF oversaw evacuations in India. Evacuations began on 17 May 2020 in Jagatsinghpur, beginning with the elderly and pregnant living in thatched homes. Magistrates were directed to begin evacuating residents from vulnerable homes and low-lying areas in Odisha the following day. The Odia Government took a more targeted evacuation approach for Amphan than in previous storms where more widespread evacuations were utilised. Odisha had shelter capacity for up 1,1 million evacuees, though only 10 percent was expected to be used. Over 141 000 people were ultimately moved to shelters in coastal Odisha. The government of West Bengal planned to evacuate 200 000 people from their homes by 18 May 2020; nearly 300 000 people evacuated in total from the state, including 200 000 from North 24 Parganas district and more than 40 000 from Sagar Island.
The cyclone produced heavy rainfall and strong winds in Sri Lanka while intensifying east of the island, affecting some 2 000 people and triggering floods and landslides. Minor flooding occurred along the banks of the Kalu Ganga. Two people were killed as a result of these rains in Ratnapura District, with one killed by a landslide and another by a fallen tree. Landslide-related injuries hospitalised other residents in the area. Two people were killed in Kegalle, where 214mm of rain fell in 24 hours. Flash floods in Kottampitiya and Pelmadulla prompted the evacuation of 60 people from homes susceptible to a possible landslide. Over 500 homes were damaged by Amphan, of which 145 were in Polonnaruwa.
Amphan made landfall on West Bengal near the Sundarbans between Digha and Hatiya at 14h30 on 20 May 2020, buffeting the region with strong winds and heavy rains. Although the extent of fatalities was less than initially feared, the cyclone's effects were nonetheless widespread and deadly. West Bengal, the epicentre of the cyclone's landfall, saw the most widespread damage from Amphan. The storm was considered the strongest to hit the region in over a decade. At least 86 people died in West Bengal; most of the fatalities were due to electrocution or the collapse of homes. The state government estimated that the storm caused at least ₹1 trillion (US$13,2 billion) in damage and directly affected 70 percent of the state's population. Chief Minister Banerjee described the storm's effects there as worse than that of COVID-19. An estimated storm surge of 5m inundated a wide swath of coastal communities and communications were severed. The greatest inundations were expected in the Sundarbans, where flooding could extend 15km inland. Embankments in the region were overtaken by the surge, leading to inundation of the islands in the Sundarbans. Bridges linking islands to the Indian mainland were swept away. The cyclone produced sustained winds of 112km/h and gusts to 190km/h in West Bengal, damaging homes and uprooting trees and electric poles. Wind gusts along coastal areas were measured up to 150–160km/h. In Kolkata, damaging winds up to 133km/h overturned vehicles and snapped approximately 10 000 trees. The Calcutta Municipal Corporation stated that Amphan toppled over 4 000 electric poles, leaving much of the city without power for over 14 hours. At least 19 people were killed in Kolkata. The storm also triggered widespread flooding around the city.
At least 20 people died in storm-related incidents, including the Cyclone Preparedness Programme leader of unit no 6 in Dhankhali union Shah Alam, who drowned when his boat capsized. Damaging effects began in Bangladesh prior to the landfall of Amphan as coastal water levels rose. Collapsed embankments led to the inundation of 17 villages across Galachipa, Kalapara and Rangabali. A ship evacuating residents of a coastal community sank, killing one person. Storm surge destroyed at least 500 homes on an island within the Noakhali District.
Winds in Satkhira topped out at 151km/h. Nearly 220 000 homes were damaged, of which 55 667 were destroyed, rendering an estimated 500 000 people homeless according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. A 2,7-m storm surge breached 150km of embankments, leading to the inundation of roughly 100 villages. In Purba Durgabati, part of a levee was washed away by floodwaters up to four metres high, causing 600 houses to be inundated. Low-lying areas in Barishal were submerged 0,9 to 1,2m under water. Flooded rivers affected parts of Rangabali and Galachipa upazilas in Patuakhali district and parts of Khulna district. Three hundred shelters in Cox's Bazar were damaged by flooding and landslides. All 65 freshwater ponds in the Sundarbans were inundated by saltwater and numerous kewra trees were uprooted; however, damage to the mangrove forest was less than initially feared. Across 26 districts, approximately 1 100 km of roads and over 200 bridges were damaged.
20 disaster relief teams were dispatched by the Indian Coast Guard to begin search and rescue operations on 22 May 2020. Ten teams were sent to West Bengal to aid recovery, in addition to the NDRF teams pre-positioned there before Amphan's passage. Approximately 1 000 ground teams worked to restore infrastructure and services in West Bengal after Amphan, though only 25 to 30 percent of workers were staffed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The resulting slow restoration of power sparked protests across West Bengal aimed primarily at electricity company CESC. Some restoration efforts were disrupted by these protests. The Home Department of West Bengal requested additional crews from railway and port interest, while five brigades from the Indian Army were deployed in Kolkata and the 24 Parganas districts to support recovery efforts. Additional assistance was requested from Jharkland and Odisha. The government of Odisha sent 500 members of its disaster rapid action force and fire service to West Bengal. Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik performed an aerial survey of the damage in his state following Amphan.
The European Union stated that it would initially provide €500 000 (US$545 000) for those affected by the storm in India.
Sources: Aljazeera, Wikipedia and BBC