The Bangladesh government has taken full-scale preparations to face the super cyclone Amphan which is approaching from the Bay of Bengal.
More than 20 lakh people have been evacuated to shelters in an effort to minimise possible casualties. Extra shelters have also been prepared to allow for social and physical distancing. Face masks are being distributed as well.
"As a role model in tackling national disasters, we are ready to face it and expect a minimum loss from it," said Dr Enamur Rahman, state minister for disaster management and relief.
In a virtual briefing yesterday, the state minister said the government has already evacuated people from coastal areas in 19 districts to safety.
He also said that great danger signal number 10 will be hoisted from today at 6am as the cyclone may hit the Bangladesh coast today.
"Amphan is posing a dual challenge to Bangladesh as the country is already grappling with containing the spread of the highly-infectious coronavirus," he added.
Enamur Rahman said the government has already prepared 12,078 shelters – double the number prepared during cyclone Bulbul last year.
Apart from cyclone shelters, educational institutions have been opened so that gatherings which pose Covid-19 infection risk can be averted during the natural calamity. Though the capacity of these shelters is over 51 lakh people, only 22 to 23 lakh people will be kept there, he said.
Everyone will have to wear a face mask in the shelters, and maintain at least one-meter distance. Families will be kept together in the shelters by maintaining distance from others.
According to the Bangladesh Meteorological Department, the very severe cyclonic storm was centred about 785 km south-southwest of Chattogram port, 740 km south-southwest of Cox's Bazar port, 670 km south-southwest of Mongla port and 665 km south-southwest of Payra port as of 3:00 pm yesterday.
It is likely to move in a north-northeasterly direction and may cross the Bangladesh coast between Khulna and Chattogram during the afternoon or evening on May 20, said a special cyclone bulletin release by the meteorological department.
Meteorologist Md Monowar Hossain said a five to ten feet high storm surge may hit the low-lying areas of the country's coastal belt under the influence of super cyclone "Amphan" and the moon phase.
Medical teams formed in 19 districts
The government has formed medical teams with 1,757 members in 19 districts as a precautionary measure for the approaching super cyclone Amphan.
The Health Emergency Operations Centre and Control Room has provided necessary information on disaster management to deal with Amphan.
An adequate stock of medicines has been kept at the Central Medical Stores Depot and the Department of Health, Dhaka. The leave of all health department employees near to the risky areas has been cancelled, according to the issued notice.
All deputy commissioners and district relief and disaster management committees in coastal districts held emergency virtual meetings yesterday regarding the preparation of facing Amphan.
The meetings decided to keep standby medical teams with adequate relief material, including drinking water and dry food, by strictly maintaining social distancing in all shelter centres before and after the cyclone. Different committees have been formed in all vulnerable coastal upazilas to monitor the pre and post cyclonic situation in the coastal belt.
Super cyclone after decades
Leading global storm tracker AccuWeather described Amphan as the first super cyclone in the Bay of Bengal since 1999, fearing the "ferocious" storm to unleash extreme damage across Bangladeshi and northeastern Indian coastlines.
The US-based weather forecasting agency said the cyclone was drifting north-northeastward over the open Bay of Bengal early yesterday while "favourable environmental conditions have allowed for (its) significant strengthening".
In April 1991, a Category 5 Hurricane or super cyclonic storm in the south coastal region of Bangladesh killed a large number of people and around 10 million lost their homes.
4,046 cyclone shelters ready in Chattogram
Chattogram district administration has prepped 4,046 cyclone shelters to house people of the coastal district during the super-cyclone Amphan, which may hit Bangladesh today.
Fifteen thousand volunteers along with 284 medical teams have also been kept ready to help the people of the district during this natural calamity.
City corporation and local administration officials are urging residents of the city to move to safety or go to the cyclone shelters.
Armed forces ready to step in post-cyclone recovery
Bangladesh Army, Bangladesh Navy, Coast Guard along with Fire Service and Civil Defence are prepared to assist in the post-cyclone recovery as the super cyclonic storm "Amphan" approaches the country's coast.
"Up to now, we have moved around 2,000 people to cyclone shelters," Upazila Nirbahi Officer at Satkhira's Shyamnagar upazila ANM Abuzar Gifari said, adding that the process of moving more people is underway despite the gale and heavy rain.
"We have decided to move about 60,000 people to safety while ensuring social distancing."
"An emergency medical team is ready to serve. And the army and other specialised forces are prepared to take part in rescue operations once the cyclone crosses the coastline of the country."
Over 10,000 fishermen yet to return from sea
As the super cyclone Amphan approaches the coastal areas of the country, all fishing boats and trawlers out on the Bay of Bengal have started returning to shore.
However, over 600 fishing boats from Chattogram and Cox's Bazar have not returned yet, although the authorities had asked all boats out at sea to anchor by yesterday. About 10,000 to 12,000 fishermen are aboard these boats.
Chattogram port stops unloading goods
The Chittagong Port Authority (CPA) has stopped unloading goods in the jetty and outer anchorage of the port to curb the probable damage from Amphan.
Mother vessels (large ship) have been moved to Kutubdia-Cox's Bazar coast whereas lighter ships and other small vessels have been moved upstream of Shah Amanat Bridge, said Captain Faridul Alam, deputy conservator at the port.