The extremely severe cyclonic storm ‘Amphan’ on Monday turned into a super cyclonic storm, only the second over the Bay of Bengal in two decades, and is spiraling towards Indian shores, prompting the West Bengal and Odisha governments to start evacuating people from vulnerable areas, officials said.

The National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) has deployed 37 teams in the coastal areas of the two states, its chief S N Pradhan said.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi reviewed the situation with Union Home Minister Amit Shah and top government officials in New Delhi, as the impending super cyclone compounded worries at a time when it is grappling with mounting COVID-19 deaths and cases.

In somewhat comforting news for the Centre and the state governments, the India Meteorological Department (IMD) forecast that the storm will lose some of its intensity on the way and slam West Bengal as a very severe cyclonic storm during landfall between Digha in the state and Hatiya Islands in Bangladesh on Wednesday evening.

It will still have a maximum sustained wind speed of 165 to 175 kmph gusting up to 185 kmph, the weatherman said.

Howling winds travelling at a speed of 220 to 230 kmph and gusting to 255 kmph were being witnessed over west-central and adjoining parts of south Bay of Bengal. It is likely to increase further to 230 to 240 kmph and gusting to 265 kmph by Monday night, IMDs Regional Director G K Das said in Kolkata.

The super cyclonic storm is however, now moving at a speed of seven kmph and lay centered about 730 km near south of Paradip in Odisha, 890 km south-southwest of Digha in West Bengal and 1010 km south-southwest of Khepupara in Bangladesh, said H R Biswas, director of the meteorological centre in Bhubaneswar.

An unspecified number of people were evacuated from coastal areas of Odisha where Jagatsinghpur, Kendrapara, Bhadrak and Balasore were likely to experience heavy rainfall accompanied by high-velocity winds, particularly on May 19 and 20, IMD Director General Mrutyunjay Mohapatra said.

The Meteorological (MeT) Department, which has issued an “orange message” for West Bengal, warned of extensive damage in Kolkata, Hooghly, Howrah, South and North 24 Parganas and East Midnapore districts.

Disruption of rail and road link are likely at several places but that will not have a major impact on human lives as only skeletal traffic ply the roads and railway tracks.

Large-scale damage to communication and electricity lines, crops and houses are feared, official sources said.

Official reports reaching Kolkata said 40,000 people have already been evacuated from South 24 Parganas district.

“Storm surge of 4 to 5 metres above astronomical tide is likely to inundate low lying areas of South and North 24 Parganas and about 3 to 4 metres over low lying areas of East Midnapore district of West Bengal during the time of landfall,” Das said.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi assured all possible central assistance to the states likely to be hit by the cyclone.

“Reviewed the preparedness regarding the situation due to cyclone ‘Amphan’. The response measures as well as evacuation plans were discussed. I pray for everyone’s safety and assure all possible support from the Central Government,” Modi tweeted soon after the meeting.

He also reviewed the evacuation plan presented by the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF), a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office said.

“During the presentation of the response plan, DG NDRF (S N Pradhan) informed that 25 NDRF teams have been deployed on the ground while 12 others are ready in reserve. Twenty-four other NDRF teams are also on standby in different parts of the country,” the statement said.

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said in Kolkata that NDRF and State Disaster Response Force (SDRF) personnel were in a state of readiness to evacuate those who will be hit by the cyclone and also to reach relief.

“We will be monitoring the situation for cyclone ‘Amphan’ 24X7. Chief secretary Rajiva Sinha, Home secretary Alapan Bandyopadhyay and secretary disaster management will be monitoring the situation,” she told reporters.

Cyclone ‘Amphan’ is only the second super cyclone over the Bay of Bengal after the one that savaged Odisha in 1999, claiming nearly 10,000 lives.

Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik has already set a target of ensuring zero casualties. Chief Secretary A K Tripathy said the government is closely monitoring the situation and is in constant touch with 12 coastal districts to ensure foolproof arrangements.

Fishermen have been advised not to venture into the sea till May 21, Special Relief (SRC) P K Jena said.

He said the evacuation exercise will be completed on Tuesday. People living within five km of the coastline and in vulnerable areas are also being evacuated.

Odisha Panchayati Raj Minister Pratap Jena said the state is prepared to evacuate 11 lakh to 12 lakh people. Jena said it will be done by strictly adhering to social distancing guidelines for COVID-19 pandemic.

Pregnant women and ailing people will be shifted to hospitals, the SRC said.

He said of the 809 cyclone shelters in the 12 coastal districts, 211 are now being used as temporary medical camps for the returnees from different states amid the COVID-19 lockdown.

Since the cyclone will take place in summer there is no fear of floods but several reservoirs have been asked to release water as precautionary measure, he added.

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