Natural Disasters

Cyclone Amphan may batter Sundarbans. How ready is Bengal

State govt plans to evacuate at least 0.2 mln people from three districts in the region  

By Jayanta Basu
Published: Tuesday 19 May 2020
Cyclone Amphan likely to hit West Bengal on May 20. Credit: Medha Basu
Photo credit: Medha Basu Photo credit: Medha Basu

The super cyclone Amphan is predicted to make landfall in the West Bengal by May 20 near Sundarbans, said the India Meteorological Department (IMD). The state government has begun evacuation of at least 0.2 million people from three districts around Sundarbans.

However, the major thorn in the side is the ensuing novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic. Officials claimed several people have been refusing to relocate fearing infection.  

According to IMD May 19, 2020 bulletin:

The super cyclonic storm Amphan lay centered at 8.30 hours Indian standard time over west central Bay of Bengal about 480 kilometres nearly south of Paradip (Odissa), 630 km south-southwest of Digha (West Bengal) and 750 km south-southwest of Khepupara (Bangladesh).

It added that the cyclone was likely to move north-northeast across northwest Bay of Bengal and cross West Bengal coasts between Digha and Hatiya Islands (Bangladesh) close to Sundarbans during the afternoon / evening of 20 May, 2020.

“It is expected that the super cyclone will lose some intensity while entering the land part and turn into an extremely severe cyclonic storm,” the IMD said. It predicted the maximum wind speed of 155-165 kilometre per hour, gusting to 185 kmph.

After making the landfall, the cyclone is likely to move towards Bangladesh. Kolkata and districts including West Midnapur, Howrah and Hoogly are likely to face storm with wind speed of 110-120 kmph, with gusting of 130 kmph.

South and North-24 Parganas and East Midnapur are likely to face wind speed of 155-165 kmph, with gusting of 185 kmph.

Gale (very high wind speed) will be associated with heavy (70-200 mm per hour) to extremely heavy rainfall.

Though IMD has not yet come out officially about the probable landfall point beyond ‘close to Sundarbans’, sources have claimed that the probable landfall point “seemed to be somewhere near Sagar Island, Kakdwip and Patharpratima blocks of western Sunderbans”.

“The landfall point could more specifically be in Gangadharpur in between Kakdwip and Patharpratima blocks, according to the information that has been passed to us,” claimed a senior official of state disaster management department.

The projected landfall point is close to the point of cyclone Bulbul landfall that battered Sundarbans in November 2019.

“As of now, the probable landfall point cannot be pinpointed. But the landfall in the western Sunderbans blocks could be a possibility as they lie in the forward path of the cyclone,” said GK Das, IMD, Kolkata.

According to Kolkata Port Trust sources, the full high tide on May 20 evening is expected around 8.46 pm. “The cyclone is scheduled to hit around afternoon or early evening. However, if it gets delayed by a couple of hours and occur almost simultaneously with high tide, the devastation will be extremely high as embankments will be affected apart from river surges inundating land area,” said an expert.

In case of Aila, overlapping of cyclone with high tide brought mega inundation; it was less in the case of Bulbul as the cyclone happened during low tide period.

Javed Khan, state disaster management minister, said the government will evacuate more than 0.2 mln people from Sundarbans, especially from the vulnerable areas. Khan claimed that six teams of National Disaster Response Force have been positioned in South-24 Pargans around Kakdwip; four in East Midnapur and two in North-24 Parganas.

The minister, however, accepted that the COVID-19 pandemic has made the evacuation process difficult.

“It has been challenging to evacuate people while maintaining physical distancing. But we are providing masks and sanitisers to those evacuated,” the minister told DTE.

A district official said the state evacuated about 60,000 people in South-24 Parganas; 25,000 in Purba Midnapur and 18,000 in North-24 Parganas so far.

“But many are refusing to move fearing infection,” said a district official.

Moreover, several flood shelters have already been occupied by migrant workers who recently returned from other states and were quarantined. “But we are trying to locate vacant shelters along with schools and pucca buildings,” added the official.

Milan Das, secretary of South Bengal fishermen association, told DTE that many fishermen were moved to pucca structures close to harbours in these districts.

Meanwhile, experts have projected major losses in agriculture and other physical damages.

“We expedited the harvesting of Boro crop when the warning was issued. I expect at most 20,000 hectres of Boro crop may be damaged in the South Bengal districts, while the state has 12.5 lakhs hectres of the crop,” PK Majumdar, Chief Minister’s advisor in agriculture, told DTE.

 “Widespread rainfall can turn the Boro paddy into poultry feed,” warned another expert.          

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