India and Bangladesh brace for powerful cyclone

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Sun sets behind a patterned cloud formed over the city in Kolkata, West Bengal state, India, Monday, May 18, 2020. A cyclonic storm 'Amphan' has intensified into a super cyclone over the Bay of Bengal and expected a landfall near Sundarbans, south of Kolkata, on May 19 evening. A red alert has been initiated to sea bound fishermen and disaster management teams started evacuating villagers from the sea front. (AP Photo/Bikas Das)

NEW DELHI – A powerful cyclone was moving toward India and Bangladesh on Tuesday as authorities tried to evacuate millions of people while maintaining social distancing.

Cyclone Amphan is expected to make landfall on Wednesday afternoon, and forecasters warned of extensive damage from high winds, heavy rainfall, tidal waves and some flooding in crowded cities like Kolkata.

The cyclone had winds of 220-230 kilometers per hour (136-142 miles per hour) and is forecast to weaken before it makes landfall around India’s West Bengal state and Bangladesh.

It is the second super cyclone on record that has formed over the Bay of Bengal, said Mrutyunjay Mohapatra, India’s meteorological chief. The first was a devastating 1999 cyclone in Odisha state that left nearly 10,000 people dead.

“This type of cyclone can be disastrous,” Mohapatra said.

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 25 kilometers (15 miles) inland along the many rivers that crisscross the Bengal delta.

Authorities in Bangladesh warned that the cyclone could flood vast swaths of southwestern and southern areas. Junior Minister for Disaster Management and Relief Enamur Rahman said more than 50,000 people had already been evacuated in Satkhira district, which was devastated by a 2009 cyclone.