A weakened Cyclone Amphan proved deadly as it made landfall Wednesday in the Indian state of West Bengal and southwestern Bangladesh, according to officials and media reports.
A Bangladesh meteorological official told BenarNews that Amphan crossed into Bangladesh around 7 p.m. after first striking the West Bengal capital, Kolkata. Authorities blamed the storm for at least five deaths in Bangladesh and a dozen in West Bengal.
“A part of Cyclone Amphan hit the southwestern and south-central districts Wednesday evening. The wind speed came down before it hit Bangladesh, so the level of devastation, as previously anticipated, will not be so high,” Shamsuddin Ahmed, the director of Bangladesh meteorological department, told BenarNews.
The U.S. Navy’s Joint Typhoon Warning Center reported sustained winds of 86 mph and gusts up to 103 mph at 8 p.m. (Dhaka time). The storm was expected to weaken further as it travelled north-northeast along the border between the two countries over the next 24 hours.
Earlier Wednesday, India’s chief meteorologist warned of “extensive and lasting damage” in coastal districts.
“It is the strongest cyclone in the 21st century over the Bay of Bengal,” Meteorological Department Director General Mrityunjay Mohapatra told AFP, citing wind gusts of up to 185 kph (115 mph). He warned of “extensive and lasting damage” in coastal districts.
“Certainly it is, you can say, a double threat ... we have got the threat due to COVID-19 and at the same time we have got this threat of a cyclone approaching densely populated areas of West Bengal and Bangladesh,” he said.
In Kolkata, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee told reporters that as many as a dozen people were killed in her state, and about 500,000 people crowded into cyclone shelters.
In Bangladesh, officials reported heavy flooding, power outages and deaths in coastal districts. Two people died in the southcentral district of Patuakhali, two in Bhola district and one in Pirojpur, local authorities told BenarNews.
“One elderly person died as an uprooted tree fell on him. The sea and rivers have turned cruel,” Mohammad Masud Alam Siddique, chief of Bhola district administration, told BenarNews.
“At least 15 villages … have been inundated by five to six feet of water. The meteorological department has warned us that the villages may see 10 to 12 feet of water,” Siddique said.
But the storm bypassed the southeastern coastal districts of Chittagong and Cox’s Bazar, where about 1 million Rohingya live in refugee camps and settlements, officials said.
“We have made preparations for Cyclone Amphan, but we have not seen any rain or strong wind in Cox’s Bazar. The Rohingya camps are safe,” Kamal Hossain, the deputy commissioner of Cox’s Bazar, told BenarNews.
Bangladesh authorities moved nearly 2.4 million people to 14,600 emergency shelters, according to Dr. Aminur Rahman, state minister for disaster management.
“This is the highest number of people who were sent to cyclone shelters,” he told BenarNews.
By comparison, 2 million people were sent to 5,500 emergency shelters when Cyclone Fani struck last year. The increase in the number of shelters was to allow for social distancing as Bangladesh copes with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Bangladesh health officials reported 1,617 new COVID-19 cases – the largest one day increase – and 16 additional deaths on Wednesday, bringing the totals to 26,738 and 386, respectively.
Globally, more than 4.9 million people have been infected by COVID-19 and more than 325,000 have died as of Wednesday, according to data compiled by disease experts at U.S.-based Johns Hopkins University.