Cyclone Amphan, one of the most powerful storms over the Bay of Bengal in years, began crossing the Bangladesh coastline yesterday afternoon after making landfall in the Indian state of West Bengal.
Cyclone Amphan slammed into southwestern Bangladesh coastline bordering India coast on Wednesday evening with pounding winds and torrential rains, inflating sea waters causing as high as 12 feet tidal surges.
No sources could confirm about casualties from the cyclone in Bangladesh as of 9pm Wednesday. But The Business Standard received news of five casualties in Bhola, Patuakhali, Satkhira and Chattogram.
According to the Bangladesh Meteorological Department, the centre of the tropical storm was diverted towards West Bengal. It might cross Bangladesh by Wednesday midnight.
The storm made landfall around 4pm near the Indian town of Digha, on the eastern coast, and hit the Shyamnagar and Koyra areas of Satkhira in Bangladesh around 5pm.
Bangladesh Meteorological Department's Director Samsuddin Ahmed told The Business Standard in the evening that it started crossing the Bangladesh side of the coast around 5pm on the day packing a wind speed of around 160 to 180kph rising to 200kph within 80km of its centre,
It might take around six to eight hours for the entire storm system with a diameter of 400km to cross the coastline, he said.
Meteorologists said the "extremely severe cyclonic storm" was packing maximum sustained winds and gusts as it roared ashore with Khulna, Mongla, Satkhira and the Sundarbans absorbing its main brunt in the Bangladesh part.
"Amphan will threaten the head of the Bay of Bengal region with torrential rain, widespread damaging winds and extreme storm surge as the storm continues to move inland. Kolkata, the capital city of West Bengal, will take a direct hit from the storm," US-based global storm tracker AccuWeather said.
Initial reports from coastlines suggest the storm ravaged coastlines, washing away coastal embankments at places and claimed so far at least two lives as the onslaught coincided with high tide period.
Bangladeshi Met office said the tip of the cyclone hit the coastline just ahead of the evening in southwestern regions including the Sundarbans as predicted earlier and barrelled towards Indian coast.
But Bangladesh meteorological department in a briefing at Wednesday 8 pm informed that there was no major threat for Bangladesh now. The way of the cyclone was changed towards west Bengal.
Meteorologists predicted that Amphan would go forward towards the land area with decreased speed after continuous rain.
A part of Amphan would go towards Jashore and Narail through Satkhira and Khulna within Wednesday night. On this route the speed of wind might be 90 kilometres per hour. Then it will go forward towards Magura, Gopalgonj, Rajbari, Sirajgonj and Jamlpur.
According to Indian Meterological Department, the cyclonic storm after the landfall, the system was very likely to continue to move north-northeastwards, across Gangetic West Bengal and Bangladesh and weaken gradually. It was likely to maintain the intensity of Cyclonic Storm till this morning and thereafter it will weaken into a deep depression over Bangladesh. Under its influence gale wind speed reaching 70-80kmph gusting to 90kmph likely over interior districts (Murshidabad and Nadia) of gangetic West Bengal from Wednesday night to Thursday morning.
An elderly man and a 5-year-old child had died falling under trees in Bhola and Patuakhali. The team leader of unit 6 of the Cyclone Preparedness Programme (CPP), who went missing earlier on the day in Patuakhali, was found dead later.
Another person drowned in Swandip of Chattogram, while a woman died in Satkhira after tree fell on her during storm.
Local administrations were making a serious effort to shift people to cyclone centres, but many were refusing to leave home over concerns of property theft and risk of Covid-19 infections in a crowded environment.
Local administrations however made it clear that arrangements had been made to ensure social distancing inside the cyclone centres.
Bangladesh raised its highest storm danger signal to the highest level of 10 on Wednesday morning for the southwestern coastlines under the purview of Mongla and Paira ports amid a desperate evacuation campaign as the severe cyclone neared the coast.
According to a meteorology department bulletin, the coastal districts of Satkhira, Khulna, Bagherhat, Jhalokathi, Pirozpur, Borguna, Patuakhali, Bhola, Barishal, Laxmipur, Chandpur and their offshore islands and shoals would come under great danger signal number 10.
Meanwhile, Chattogram and Cox's Bazar were hoisting Danger Signal 9 as of filing this report at 9.30pm on Wednesday.
Kholpetua river embankment damaged
The embankment on the Kholpetua River in Satkhira got damaged even before Amphan had hit the country. The embankment, located in Burigoalini union of Shyamnagar upazila, started breaking around 1pm on Wednesday.
Burigoalini Union Parishad Chairman GM Masudul Alam said, "The water level of the Kapataksha and Kholpetua rivers have increased manifold. Rising waters of the Kholpetua River overflowed the embankment on Kholpetua River and flooded Sora village.
Khulna embankment at risk
Rivers in coastal area of the Sundarbans witnessed a 3 to 3.5 feet rise in water level as of 4pm on Wednesday.
The surge of water is putting the embankment at serious risk and raising concerns among the people living in coastal lowland areas, especially in Dacope and Koyraupazilas. People in many areas in the region are volunteering to repair the cracks in the embankment.
According to local people, the 30-km area of Kapataksha and Shakbaria riversunder the Koyra Sadar union, Dakshin Bedkashi union, Uttar Bedkashi union and Moharajpur union were at risk of being flooded.
Meanwhile, Mongla Port authorities told The Business Standard that 11 cargo vessels, other ships and tourist boats had been shifted to safety.
Khulna Deputy Commissioner Mohammad Helal Hossain said more than one lakh people had taken shelter at cyclone centres.
Khulna Relief and Rehabilitation Officer Azizul Haque Joardar said the district administration had allocated 140 tonnes of rice for coastal region people affected by the cyclone Amphan.
Mongla halts loading-unloading of goods
Mongla Port Chairman Rear Admiral M Shahjahan said the loading and unloading of goods remain halted at the port since Tuesday.
"Port stakeholders have also been moved to a safe location," he added.
The ferry dock was closed after 1:30pm on Wednesday, after witnessing larger than usual high tide.
Around one lakh people have taken shelter at 1,000 cyclone centres in Bagerhat until 12pm.
20 villages flooded in Barguna
High tides, caused by the cyclone Amphan, broke the embankment in four areas of Barguna and flooded at least 20 villages.
Some croplands and fish enclosures have also been washed away.
Barguna district Water Development Board's Executive Engineer Kaisar Ahmed said, "I have learned that the high tide has broken the embankment in several areas. Our workers are repairing the damaged embankment."
Sources from the Barguna district administration said around 1.5 lakh local residents have been shifted to 618 cyclone centres in six upazilas.
One dead, 30 villages flooded in Patuakhali
A person who went missing around 9am on Wednesday while alerting local people about the dangers of the super cyclone Amphan was found dead later on the day.
Syed Alam, 50, sixth unit team leader of Cyclone Preparedness Programme, drowned after falling into the Hafezpyadar canal.
Around 2,500 people in Kolapara have become marooned due to waterlogging. Another 300-400 people have taken shelter at a local cyclone centre.
Kolapara UNO Mohammad Shaidul Haque said around 72,000 people has taken shelter in 163 cyclone centres.
Local administration had shifted around 600 poor families to safety from the Kuakata beach
Around 20 river islands in Bhola, including Char Kukri Mukri, Dhalchar, Char Nizam and Kolatoli, have gone under 3-5 feet of water.
District Deputy Commissioner Masud Alam Siddique said, "The flooding has caused damaged to around 25,000 people. We have shifted around 2 lakh people to cyclone shelters so far."
People not seeking shelter in Chattogram
Despite a serious attempt by the Chattogram administration to shift the people to cyclone centres, more than one lakh people have yet to go there.
According to sources from the district administration, around 64,000 people have taken shelter at the cyclone centres until 2:15pm on Wednesday.
The district has 1,770 cyclone centres, as per the district Relief and Rehabilitation Department.
Many local people told The Business Standard that they are not taking shelter at the centre over fear of their property and fishing equipment being stolen.
Meghna floods Lakshmipur
Thirty-three kilometres of coastal area lowland near the Meghna river in Lakshmipur has been flooded due to the effects of cyclone Amphan. The riverbank also did not have any embankment.
Croplands have become submerged under three feet of water. The water level of the river has risen by at least 6-7 feet. The cyclone is threatening at least 37 kilometres of unprotected coastal area.
Lakshmipur was hoisting Great Danger Signal ten till the filing of this report.
Country's preparation to face Amphan
State Minister for Disaster Management and Relief Dr Enamur Rahman earlier on Wednesday said the government had increased the number of cyclone shelters to 14,636 where almost 24 lakh people could be accommodated maintaining physical and social distancing.
He said, "Earlier the government arranged some 12,078 shelters to evacuate people as a precautionary measure against a cyclone. But, as the number of people has increased, the government has arranged more cyclone centres. The number of shelters prepared this time is three times higher than that arranged during cyclone Bulbul."
Earlier Wednesday, the National Disaster Management Council held a meeting with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in the chair. In the meeting, the premier said the government was prepared with every possible measure to protect lives and properties from the extremely severe cyclonic storm Amphan.
Disaster management instructions on what to do to tackle the super cyclone had been given, she added.
State Minister Enamur Rahman said as part of the government's all-out preparations to face the cyclone, the health ministry also took measures to provide treatment facilities among the coastal people. The ministry had readied medical teams with necessary medicines to this end, he added.
He went on to say that army and navy troops were also engaged to assist local administrations in bringing the vulnerable coastal people to safer places as they were already at the scene on Covid-19 duty. "All big ships were taken to safer areas to avoid damage," he said.
According to Habibur Rahman Khan, spokesperson of health ministry media cell, the health ministry formed 1,933 teams – 1,212 working in Chattogram, 303 in Khulna, and 418 in Barishal divisions – to face cyclone Amphan. These teams will provide health services and medicine for people who have taken shelter in government-arranged cylone centres.
Shipping ministry opens control room
The Ministry of Shipping has opened a control room to address various issues regarding cyclone Amphan. The central telephone number of the control room is 9546072, said a press release issued on Wednesday.
The control room started operation at 8am on Wednesday and would remain open till 10pm on May 22, it added.
Previous cyclones in the region
Cyclonic storm Amphan reminds us of the tragic history of tropical cyclones formed over the Bay of Bengal. Let us take a look back at some of the worst cyclones that have hit the country thus far.
The Great Bhola Cyclone remains at the top with a death toll of around 5 lakh.
But unfortunately, the Bhola Cyclone is not the only tropical cyclone that has caused a massive loss of lives. According to the Bangladesh Meteorological Department, 10 tropical cyclones since 1876 have caused 5,000 or more deaths each. Four of those cyclones killed 100,000 or more. Most recently, Cyclone Gorky killed nearly 140,000 in 1991.
Cyclone Amphan is forecast to be the worst storm over the Bay of Bengal since the 1991.
In the history of independent Bangladesh, the 1991 cyclone was among the deadliest tropical cyclones on record. The cyclone caused at least 138,866 deaths in the last week of April that year.
However, in 1970, Bhola Cyclone killed around 5 lakh people after it had hit the entire coast of Bangladesh. Most affected regions were Chattogram, Barguna, Khepupara, Patuakhali, north of Char Burhanuddin, Char Tazumuddin, and south of Maijdi, Haringhata.
The Great Backerganj Cyclone of 1876 alone killed nearly 200,000 people. The cyclone hit the coast of Backerganj (near Meghna estuary) in present-day Barishal.
Besides Bangladesh, northeastern coast of India is also prone to cyclonic storms. The deadliest tropical cyclone to hit India in the last few decades was the 1999 Odisha Cyclone, which struck the northeastern Indian state as a Category 4-equivalent storm with 155-mph winds.
Cyclone Nargis in 2008 devastated the southern delta region of Myanmar, southeast of Bangladesh, with extreme storm-surge flooding. More than 130,000 people were killed, mostly in neighbouring country Myanmar.
Sidr that hit the coastal belt in 2007 killed around 3,500 people in Bangladesh.
Just after two years of Sidr, another cyclone Aila killed 190 people in the country in 2009. It was categorised as a "Severe Cyclonic Storm". Mahasen, categorised as a "Cyclonic Storm", killed 18 in 2013.