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With PPE kits and masks, Mamata govt gets ready to face ‘super cyclone’ Amphan

Thousands of people in Bengal's coastal belt have been evacuated, but it has been made tougher by social-distancing guidelines warranted by coronavirus.

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Kolkata: The Mamata Banerjee government in West Bengal has its task cut out as it braces for cyclonic storm Amphan while fighting the Covid-19 pandemic.

The evacuation of people living in the coastal belt of the state has been made even tougher by the social-distancing guidelines warranted by the coronavirus. 

To make sure residents saved from the impact of the storm don’t end up being exposed to the virus, West Bengal has arranged more shelters than it usually does, while also putting together thousands of personal protective equipment (PPE) kits for volunteers and lakhs of masks for evacuees. 

Even so, in some areas, convincing residents to shift into shelters with other people while a highly infectious disease is stalking the world is proving a fresh challenge altogether.

Cyclone Amphan is expected to make landfall in West Bengal Wednesday afternoon or evening. Three coastal districts of West Bengal and four southern districts, including Kolkata, are expected to bear the brunt of the landfall and the storm surge, Alipore MET department officials said. 

Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee made an emotional appeal to the state Wednesday, offering paeans to human strength as she sought to alert residents to the challenge at hand.

The state, she said, is battling “three emergency situations — the coronavirus crisis, the return of migrant labourers from around the country and now the super cyclone Amphan”. 

“When your house is on fire, you only run to save your life first. Rest can be taken care of later. Maintaining rules of social distancing will be difficult as we look at it practically, but our district magistrates are still working hard to keep all arrangements in place,” she added in an address from Nabanna Tuesday. 

“Only God knows which emergency situation will prevail over what, but I believe the strength and will of people will win,” she said. 

She also held a two-hour-long online conference with the ministers concerned and representatives of the district administration.

Also Read: All about Cyclone Amphan, the extremely severe storm with 185 kmph wind speeds to hit Bengal

Evacuation in the time of coronavirus

The India Meteorological Department (IMD) said Monday that Amphan is expected to reach the West Bengal coast in the afternoon/evening of 20 May with wind speeds of over 155-165 kmph, causing heavy rainfall and storm surges in the coastal districts. 

The storm is likely to impact the coastal districts of Jagatsinghpur, Kendrapada, Bhadrak, Jajpur and Balasore in Odisha, and East Medinipur, South & North 24 Parganas, Howrah, Hooghly, and Kolkata in West Bengal.

The IMD has classified Amphan as a ‘super cyclonic storm’, predicting that it will weaken to an ‘extremely severe cyclonic storm’ by the time it makes landfall.

Most of the areas in Bengal that are likely to witness maximum damage are green zones (least Covid-19 risk), but the recent movement of migrants has made things critical, said a senior official of the state government. 

In South 24 Parganas, which is likely to be the worst-affected district in the state, the authorities have arranged 600 cyclone shelters, four times the usual, besides 5,000 PPE kits and at least 1 lakh regular masks.

Speaking to ThePrint, South 24 Parganas district magistrate P. Ulaganathan said more than 90,000 people had been evacuated, including around 14,000 villagers living in eight remote Sundarbans islands like Ghoramara, Pujali and Kumirmari that lie deep in the forest and jut into the sea. 

“We are anyway fighting against Covid, and the evacuation or rescue work became even more difficult. However, people are cooperating with us,” he added. “Our target is to evacuate at least 1.5 lakh people. The second phase of evacuation is going on now.”

Asked about the special measures taken in light of the pandemic, he said the district had arranged dozens of additional evacuation centres. 

“We had around 150 flood shelters in the district. Now, we have requisitioned at least 450 more to maintain social-distancing norms. We have requisitioned schools, local community centres, small hotels, lodges, other big government buildings,” he added, explaining that the occupancy at each shelter will be cut by almost 60 to 70 per cent. 

“For rescue workers or disaster management volunteers, we have already distributed 5,000 PPE kits and we have more in stock,” he said. All flood centres, Ulaganathan said, will have a medical team on standby for screening and medical assistance.

South Parganas had 97 confirmed Covid-19 cases as of Tuesday, but Ulaganathan said the parts most vulnerable to Amphan were green zones that had not reported any case in the last 14 days. 

Also Read: NDRF positions 61 teams to deal with Cyclone Amphan as PM Modi takes stock

Villagers reluctant to leave

Even with the shelters ready, the authorities faced a hard time convincing residents of the coastal zone to move there. While villagers in some places like South 24 Parganas cooperated, people in East Medinipur district initially resisted the shift because of Covid-19 fears. 

A senior official of the East Medinipur district, which comprises the Digha coastal belt where Amphan is likely to make landfall, said about 30,000 people had been shifted to safer places from low-lying areas and more were being evacuated. 

The official admitted that there is an element of reluctance among villagers. “But the administration is doing its bit persuading them to move,” the official said. 

A senior state government official said people in South 24 Parganas were cooperating because “they have seen the destruction after cyclone Aila in 2009 and Bulbul last year”. 

“However, this (Amphan) seems to be worse than the previous cyclones we witnessed. We are trying our best to persuade all the people… and making all efforts to maintain the distancing and sanitising norms,” the official added. “We have supplied a huge number of masks and adequate quantities of sanitisers to all the cyclone centres.” 

State disaster management minister Javed Khan said around 1.5 lakh residents of coastal areas had been shifted to safer places. “A total of 2 lakh people would have to be evacuated from the coastal areas by today (Tuesday) evening,” he added.

Although the coastal belt of West Bengal “has been spared coronavirus infections”, he said the local administration had been asked to exercise as much caution as possible. “Nearly 2 lakh masks have been dispatched for distribution among the evacuees,” he added.

Also Read: Cyclone Fani: Why India’s east coast is a magnet for cyclones


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  1. According to news reports , Cyclone Amphan , which was shaping up between 13 to 17 May 2020 , turned into a “ Super Cyclonic Storm” , on 18 May. Alert warning was issued by weatherman. Some districts of Odisha were already alerted on 15 May. Prime Minister of India , Narendra Modi , had chaired a meeting on 18 May with all concerned departments of the Govt and reviewed preparations to size up to any likely emergency. The extremely severe cyclonic storm made a landfall in the afternoon of 20 May 2020 somewhere in West Bengal entering some parts of Odisha as well. Urban pockets of Kolkata etc were hit hard. In West Bengal , over 80 persons are reported to have died while massive destruction involving agricultural land , crops , dwelling-houses , civil infrastructure has been reported. Odisha also sustained damage-fury of the storm but it was lesser than that of West Bengal. Prime Minister was in West Bengal and Odisha on 22 May 2020 to heal the wounds inflicted by the storm. In this context , it is apt to refer readers to the alert prediction of this Vedic astrology writer in article – “ Predictions for coming year 2020 by kushal kumar” – published last year 2019 on 10 October at The month of May was indicated of worrisome concerns loaded with cyclones , storms and the like in coastal States of India specified in the alert. Dates such as 13 to 16 around within May 2020 were also suggested on 10 October 2019 requiring more care and appropriate strategy in coastal States against cyclone-storm. Floods-damage to crops or other infrastructure there was feared likely. Readers are aware that the process of intensification of cyclone Amphan into severe storm has shaped up during 13 to 17 May. It seems predictive alert published on 10 October 2019 looks to have served the purpose.

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