Natural Disasters

Cyclone Sitrang: Bengal gears up to combat Sundarbans impact

Extremely heavy rainfall will likely accompany the cyclonic storm

By Jayanta Basu
Published: Saturday 22 October 2022
Kolkata and adjoining south Bengal districts are also likely to receive significant rainfall. Image: Earth

Sitrang, the potential cyclone that originating in the Bay of Bengal and has already turned into a low-pressure area, is slated to have a landfall on the Bangladesh coast Tuesday morning (October 25, 2022).

It is likely to reach close to the southeast fringe of West Bengal and may impact the Sundarbans on either side of the border.

The cyclone, predicted to be severe, can turn tumultuous if it coincides with high tide, experts pointed out. Its speed is likely to be in the range of 90-100 kilometres per hour, with a storm surge of 110 km.

The high tide October 25 is likely to hit close to 11 am and the peak height will be around 16 feet, according to an expert at the kolkata port trust.

“We are keeping our fingers crossed. Cyclones Aila and Yaas brought more devastation to Sundarbans than Cyclone Amphan. But the latter had more wind speed than the other two cyclones,” said a senior official from the disaster management department.

The high tide exacerbated Yaas and Aila. While there was a gap of an hour or so with Amphan, the official explained.

Extremely heavy rainfall will likely accompany the cyclonic storm, especially in the South and North 24 parganas as well as East Midnapore districts. Kolkata and adjoining south Bengal districts are also likely to receive significant rainfall.

“Yes, the cyclone is slated to have landfall on the Bangladesh coast , close to West Bengal on Tuesday morning. It is likely to affect the parts of the south 24 Parganas and north Parganas districts, close to Bangladesh. Basically, Sundarbans will be affected,” confirmed Mrutyunjay Mohapatra, director general of the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD), to this reporter.

The low pressure would intensify into a deep depression October 23 and is very likely to recurve northwards and turn into a cyclonic storm over the west-central and adjoining east-central Bay of Bengal October 24, stated an IMD bulletin released October 21.

Subsequently, October 25, the cyclone will gradually move towards the north-northeast and reach near West Bengal-Bangladesh coastal areas.

“Though cyclone is yet to be generated, it seems likely that the landfall will be near the West Bengal– Bangladesh coast,” said Sanjib Banerjee, deputy director of IMD Kolkata.

The major parts of the eastern Sundarbans, falling within south 24 Parganas and north Parganas, are likely to be impacted, Banerjee added.

“The areas and islands close to the Bangladesh border — especially Gosaba, Kumirmari, Hingalganj, Taki and Basirhat are likely to be more affected, an official from the state disaster management department pointed out.

An official said Kolkata is scheduled to have a wind speed of around 60 to 70 km per hour.

Diwali holidays cancelled, state gearing up

At least half a million people will be evacuated from the vulnerable areas, the state’s disaster management minister Javed Khan told DTE. 

“We have already made arrangements to deploy adequate personnel from the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF),” said Khan. 

Some 30 teams from NDRF and other disaster management authorities will be deployed, he added.

On October 21, the state government decided on several steps to combat Sitrang’s impact on the state, particularly in the vulnerable areas of south and north 24 Parganas and the adjacent East Midnapore.

The decision came in a high-profile meeting attended by — more than 20 secretaries from several departments, district magistrates and other key officials. It was headed by the chief secretary HS Dwivedi. 

“Chief secretary has directed to open integrated control rooms in south Bengal districts. He stressed on — arranging adequate relief materials — including tarpaulin sheets — beforehand and relocating people from vulnerable areas,” said a senior official who attended the meeting.

Diwali holidays have been cancelled for government employees involved in the process, the official added.

“Our block development officer held a meeting yesterday where emphasis was given on countering the impact of the cyclone. Our embankments are well equipped. We expect that they will not be breached unless high tide and cyclone overlaps,” said the panchayat Pradhan (head) of Kumirmari island to this reporter. It is the last Indian island before Bangladesh starts.

The official said they would make a relocation plan before the cyclone hits. The island has one functional cyclone shelter and some pucca schools for relocating its nearly 25,000 people, said the official.

While Kolkata is likely to be impacted marginally by the cyclone, it is taking all steps to minimise the impact.

“We had a meeting with our concerned departments and officials where emphasis was given to relocate people from vulnerable buildings and low-lying areas of the city to community centres run by civic bodies,” said Firhad Hakim, mayor of the city.

Hakim, who doubles up as the urban development and municipal affairs minister, has also directed the municipalities of south Bengal to remain on their toes to combat the cyclone. He insisted on relocating vulnerable people on time and making arrangements for relief materials.

“We are also trying to keep our pumps ready, so water can be pumped out quickly in case of a heavy downpour. From experience, we have decided to keep a close tab on the light posts in the city so that no one gets electrocuted,” explained Hakim

An official from the disaster management department said they are working on the combat mechanism. 

“Once IMD updates further, we will decide on bringing NDRF and others to counter the possible disaster stemming from Sitrang,” the official said.

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