A powerful cyclone slammed the coastline of India and Bangladesh yesterday. Millions fled to shelters in a frantic evacuation. The coronavirus pandemic complicated their escape.
On Wednesday, Cyclone Amphan packed winds of 105 miles per hour with gusts up to 118 mph. Authorities warn the storm could cause widespread damage to flimsy houses and flooding in cities including Kolkata.
Storms can be scary. Yet the Bible promises that God not only made the sea (Psalm 146:6) but He also rules its raging. (Psalm 89:9)
In India, coconut palms swayed wildly, electric poles lay scattered on roads, rain pounded fishing villages, and rivers surged as the storm battered the coast. “The next 24 hours are very crucial. This is a long haul,” says M. Mohapatra, India’s meteorological chief.
The region has some of the most defenseless communities in South Asia: poor fishing communities in the low-lying islands in the Bay of Bengal and over a million Rohingya refugees living in crowded camps in Bangladesh.
The cyclone could also have devastating consequences for India’s fight against the coronavirus.
Tuhin Ghosh is director of the School of Oceanographic Studies at Jadavpur University. He says the pandemic’s lockdown has already sapped people’s spirits. “Because they are economically down, they are not getting enough food. . . . When another disaster comes, then it’s a double impact.”
The combination of the virus and cyclone could lead to a “new humanitarian crisis,” says Manuel Pereira of the International Organization for Migration in Bangladesh. “We know that if people are forced to seek communal shelter, they’ll be unable to maintain physical distancing and run the risk of contracting or transmitting the virus,” he says.
Sobrato Das, a fisherman on Mousuni Island in India, describes the shelters as crowded. He adds, “Very few people are wearing masks.” He says children were crying and women tried to cover their faces with their saris while also trying to maintain some distance from each other.
In the seaside resort of Digha, many people feared going to the shelters, according to fisherman Debasis Shyamal. “They have been home for weeks and are afraid of going into a crowd where they could get infected,” he says.
The densely populated city of Kolkata is likely to see flooding. Officials warn some centuries-old buildings could collapse due to the strong winds.
The region is no stranger to devastating cyclones. Yet Ghosh says Kolkata has “probably never witnessed this kind of cyclone.”
(A man covers himself with a plastic sheet and walks in the rain ahead of Cyclone Amphan’s landfall in eastern India on Wednesday, May 20, 2020. AP Photo)