Cyclone Amphan along with the coronavirus fight pose a double challenge for the country, National Disaster Response Force chief SN Pradhan said today, as he detailed preparations ahead of the mega storm expected to hit India's coast tomorrow afternoon. Millions are being evacuated from the low-lying areas of West Bengal and Odisha for the super-cyclone, which will bring strong gusting winds and heavy rain.
"We have told Bengal and Odisha, social distancing has to be maintained strictly in cyclone shelters. If a shelter has space for 1,000, then only 500 should be allowed," NDRF chief SN Pradhan told NDTV.
"Perhaps this is happening for the first time... we are facing a dual challenge right now, COVID-19 and a cyclone."
School and college buildings will be sanitized and used as shelters in districts expected to take the worst hit, the National Crisis Management Committee has decided, according to Mr Pradhan.
According to him, 21 teams of the disaster response force had been stationed in Bengal while 15 had been sent to Odisha, with more teams on stand-by in each state.
"A total of 41 teams have been deployed in both states including seven on reserve," Mr Pradhan said.
From the experience of Cyclone Fani last year, tree cutters and pole cutters have been kept at hand. The India Meteorological Department (IMD) has warned of flying objects and massive destruction of infrastructure, including damage to electricity poles, when the cyclone hits.
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee urged people near the coast in Bengal to stay indoors. State capital Kolkata, which is close to the site of the expected landfall, is also on alert.
The met department says Amphan has weakened into an extremely severe cyclonic storm as it moves closer to the coast, triggering rainfall in several parts of Odisha and Bengal.
Because of virus fears, masks have been distributed among those evacuated from vulnerable areas and Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs) have been handed out to the State Disaster Relief Force personnel.
Amphan is the second major tropical storm over the Bay of Bengal in two decades and is said to be the worst ever to hit the east coast of India, with winds at the speed of 180 km per hour. It is likely to generate waves as high as the first floor of a building.
The cyclone is likely to hit Bengal between Digha, some 180 km south of Kolkata, and Hatiya islands in Bangladesh.