Cyclone dumps rain on India, Bangladesh, 2,6 million head to shelters

A strong cyclone blew heavy rains and strong winds into coastal India and Bangladesh on Wednesday after more than 2.6 million people were moved to shelters in a frantic evacuation made more challenging by coronavirus.

Cyclone Amphan slowed slightly as it reached cooler waters near the coast. But with wind speeds ranging between 160 and 170 km per hour, the storm could cause extensive damage: winds and heavy rain battering flimsy houses, a storm surge that may push seawater 25 km (15 miles) inland and the possibility of flooding in crowded cities like Kolkata.

Bangladesh is attempting to evacuate 2.2 million people to safety. India’s West Bengal state evacuated nearly 300,000. Odisha state has evacuated 148,486 people, said Pradeep Jena, the state official in charge of managing disasters. Masks and hand-sanitizers were hastily added to the emergency items stocked in storm shelters. But the pandemic has made it harder to save lives.

Some cyclone shelters in West Bengal were used for quarantining COVID-19 patients and migrant workers traveling after India’s lockdown was eased, officials said. Some schools are now being used to shelter people, news reports said.

The West Bengal government has also asked that the special trains for migrant workers be suspended, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said.

The cyclone passed parallel to the coast of Odisha and heavy rain and strong winds had uprooted tress and collapsed some walls, said Bhabesh Mohanti, a teacher in Bhadrak district. “I just hope it passes soon, without destroying our town,” he said.

Some in the cyclone’s path saw a choice between the virus and the storm.

Many in the seaside resort town of Digha feared going to the shelters, fisherman Debasis Shyamal said. “They have been home for weeks, and are afraid of going into a crowd where they could get infected,” he said.

The densely populated city of Kolkata, which has nearly 1,500 cases of the coronavirus, is likely to see flooding, while some centuries-old buildings in the northern half of the city could collapse due to the strong winds.

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