Cyclone Amphan Update: Millions Evacuated As India Faces Shelter Shortage, Warning Waves Could Reach 13 to 16 Feet

The powerful cyclone Amphan is approaching India's West Bengal state and the bordering nation of Bangladesh. The storm system is currently crossing the northwest region of the Bay of Bengal.

Wind speed are expected to reach around 96 to 102 miles per hour, gusting to around 115 miles per hour, when it makes landfall. Waves could reach as high as 13 to 16 feet in some coastal areas, the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) warns.

India is also facing shelter shortages as the "super cyclone" arrives amid the novel coronavirus outbreak, with many shelters already occupied as quarantine centers.

Classified as an "Extremely Severe Cyclonic Storm," Amphan is expected to cross West Bengal–Bangladesh coasts between the resort town of Digha in West Bengal and the Hatiya Islands of Bangladesh) from the afternoon to evening of Wednesday, the IMD notes.

"Storm surge of about 4-5 meters [13 to 16 feet] above astronomical tide is likely to inundate low lying areas of south and north 24 Parganas and about 3-4 meters [10 to 13 feet] over the low lying areas of East Medinipur district of West Bengal during the time of landfall," the IMD warns.

The cyclone will cause heavy to extremely heavy rainfall over the Gangetic West Bengal region and heavy to very heavy rainfall over the north coastal part of the Indian state of Odisha through Wednesday. Heavy rainfall is expected in the sub-Himalayan region of West Bengal as well as the Indian states of Sikkim, Assam and Meghalaya through Thursday.

This cyclone has "extensive damaging potential" and is expected to cause "extensive large scale damage over West Bengal (east Medinipur, south & north 24 Parganas, Howrah, Hoogli, Kolkata districts)," IMD said.

Around 2.2 million people were being evacuated from coastal districts, Bangladesh State Minister for Disaster Management Enamur Rahman said at a press briefing Tuesday in Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh.

State officials say they are running out of shelters for evacuees in India, where nearly 300,000 in West Bengal were being evacuated, Agence-France-Presse (AFP) reports.

Around 250 of the nearly 800 shelters in Odisha are being used as quarantine centers, Odisha's Special Relief Commissioner, Pradip Jena, confirms.

At least six districts in Odisha have been identified as most vulnerable to the impact of the cyclone. These six districts have reported 461 novel coronavirus cases. Around 633 of the 978 cases in Odisha are reported to be in the coastal districts expected to be affected by the cyclone, The Indian Express reports.

"This is a very difficult dual disaster situation. Once we got the cyclone warning, the first challenge before us was how do we manage this evacuation because out of 809 cyclone centres in these 12 affected districts, 242 are being used as quarantine centres," Jena notes.

"Additional temporary buildings" among schools, which are closed due to the pandemic, are to be used as shelters are being looked into. "I told them I don't want any asbestos structures. I want permanent roofs. We have identified 7,092 such structures," Jena said.

"You can't always have two-metre distancing. The idea is to ensure social distance as much as possible. So if an evacuation centre earlier had 3,000 people, now we are putting around 750 people," Jena added.

S N Pradhan, Director General of India's National Disaster Response Force (NDRF), said: "A total of 37 teams have been deployed by NDRF in West Bengal and Odisha, out of which 20 teams are actively deployed and 17 are on standby in the two states," in a video message.

"It [Amphan] is a dual challenge as cyclone is striking in time of COVID-19 and we are facing a double challenge so to say," Pradhan said.

Bangladesh's junior disaster management minister, Enamur Rahman, also said: "It has been challenging to evacuate people while maintaining distancing. We have doubled the number of the cyclone centres to ensure safe distancing and hygiene.

"We are also keeping separate isolation rooms in the shelters for any infected patients," Rahman told AFP.

Last year, the region around West Bengal and Bangladesh was struck by cyclone Bulbul (classified as a Very Severe Cyclonic Storm), while Cyclone Fani (classified as an Extremely Severe Cyclonic Storm) hit Odisha.

Amphan may be the most powerful storm that has hit Bangladesh since Cyclone Sidr in 2007, which killed around 3,500 people.

Cyclone Amphan, West Bengal in India on May 20, 2020
A woman carries her child as she walks along a road near the Tajpur Beach to take shelter ahead of the expected landfall of cyclone Amphan in Midnapore, West Bengal in India on May 20, 2020. Getty Images