New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi Monday held a meeting with the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) and the National Disaster Management Agency (NDMA) to review the situation in states that will fall in the path of the cyclonic storm Amphan.
The storm is likely to intensify into a super cyclone in a matter of hours from now and is expected to make landfall on India’s eastern coast around Wednesday afternoon or evening. The states of Odisha and West Bengal, which fall along the Bay of Bengal, are likely to bear the brunt of the cyclone.
Among other things, the meeting Monday involved a discussion on evacuation plans from “the affected areas”, sources in the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) said.
Overseen by the MHA, the NDRF is India’s dedicated disaster response force. According to the sources, the PM was told that around 25 NDRF teams, each with over 30 personnel, have been deployed on the ground in West Bengal and Odisha, while 12 others have been kept in reserve.
Around 24 other teams are on standby in other parts of the country, the sources added.
While West Bengal and Odisha are charting out evacuation policies for 11 lakh people in the direct path of Amphan, the force said it has identified community centres, schools and marriage halls in the two states to shift the residents of affected areas.
These centres, the sources said, will be operated in keeping with social distancing norms and other MHA guidelines on the Covid-19 pandemic.
“The PM also took stock of the situation and reviewed the response preparedness as well as the evacuation plan presented by the NDRF. The teams are deployed and are ready,” an MHA official said.
The meeting was also attended by Home Minister Amit Shah, P.K. Sinha, the principal adviser to the Prime Minister, Cabinet Secretary Rajiv Gauba, and other senior officers.
One of highest-intensity cyclones since 1999
On Monday, the India Meteorological Department (IMD) issued heavy rainfall warnings for Odisha, West Bengal, Sikkim, Assam and Meghalaya until 21 May, Thursday, in light of Amphan.
According to an NDRF official, the severity of the cyclone is very high and expected to strengthen by Tuesday. It has been classified as a category-5 storm, the highest and severest level in the five-tier storm-categorisation scale, the source added.
“It is one of the highest-intensity cyclones in recent years, after the super cyclone that hit Odisha in 1999,” the source said, referring to the destructive cyclone that lashed into India’s eastern coast two decades ago and killed thousands. “This cyclone has a lot of potential for damage and hence we have to be extra vigilant and prepared,” the source added.
However, the IMD, which has currently classified Amphan as a ‘super cyclonic storm’, has predicted that it will weaken to an ‘extremely severe cyclonic storm’ by the time it makes landfall.
Even though the state governments are planning an evacuation strategy, the NDRF has already placed teams in Odisha and West Bengal to alert people who live near the coast.
“The teams have been stationed and are constantly communicating the threat to the people living in coastal areas and telling them that they will have to vacate soon,” the source said. “They have also been told what precautions to take in such a time.”
“Arrangements to evacuate people and accommodate them in several schools and marriage halls have begun. Since these are extraordinary times, efforts are being made to ensure that all these places… are well-sanitised, and masks and sanitisers are made available to everyone,” he said.
Situation as of now
As of Monday afternoon, the storm lay about 770 km south of Paradip (Odisha), 920 km south-southwest of Digha (West Bengal) and 1,040 km south-southwest of Khepupara (Bangladesh).
On Sunday, the IMD advised fishermen not to venture into south Bay of Bengal over the next 24 hours, into central Bay of Bengal Sunday and Monday, and into North Bay of Bengal between Monday and Wednesday.
Low-lying areas of South and North 24 Parganas and East Medinipur district of West Bengal are likely to be flooded due to a storm surge or a rise in sea level as a result of storms on account of Amphan.
The IMD has warned of extensive damage to all types of kutcha houses, and some damage to pucca structures as a result of the cyclone.
They have also warned of likely power, communication, rail and road disruptions, with the storm likely to uproot infrastructure, and damage to standing crops, plantations, orchards.
This report has been revised to correctly state the estimated time Amphan makes landfall
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