More than 3 million are going to shelters during a pandemic.
Cyclone Amphan, now the equivalent of a Category 3 hurricane, is due to arrive in India and Bangladesh on Wednesday at about 4 pm. local time with a sustained maximum wind speed of 77 miles per hour.
The intensity of the storm has eased, officials said, but the cyclone still poses a threat to coastal regions in India and Bangladesh. "We are expecting large-scale damage," said M. Mohapatra, an official with the Indian Meteorological Department.
More than three million people in India and Bangladesh are being evacuated to emergency cyclone shelters. Still, some shelters are only half full, due to concerns about social detachment during the coronavirus pandemic.
Indian meteorologists said the storm would first hit the ecologically fragile region of Sundarbans, between the Indian state of West Bengal and the Hatiya islands of Bangladesh. The region is home to many rare animals, including Bengal tigers.
The storm is one of the most dangerous super cyclones to hit India in decades, since a cyclone in 1999 killed more than 9,000 people. This storm hit winds of over 170 miles an hour, devastating many states along the coast of India.
The cyclone was constantly climbing the Bay of Bengal, traveling about 18 kilometers per hour, bringing heavy rain and great waves.
In the past few days, Abdur Rahim, a Rohingya refugee, has barely slept.
As Cyclone Amphan heads for Bangladesh, Rahim and about a million other Rohingya Muslims living in refugee camps along the coast are bracing themselves for the worst.
Residents stock up on food and wrap personal documents in plastic. Humanitarian groups are placing inflatable boats in the fields to prepare for storms of several meters. Government officials are protecting steep, muddy slopes with concrete and bamboo to prevent landslides from rain.
Rahim, 39, who lives with his wife and six children in the Kutupalong refugee camp, near the town of Cox & # 39; s Bazar, said he and his neighbors are terrified of leaving their homes.
Wind gusts are expected to reach 160 kilometers per hour, many rohingya fear that their makeshift tin and canvas shelters could be destroyed. And in the last few days, the first cases of Covid-19 were confirmed in the camps, adding another layer of anxiety and danger to aid efforts.
Snigdha Chakraborty, director of Catholic Assistance Services in Bangladesh, said the limited health facilities and precarious infrastructure on the coast suggest "a bleak picture for the next few days".
"There are no evacuation shelters in the camps and we are concerned about the damage caused by the floods, winds and Covid-19 risk as resources are expanded," she said.
Calcutta, one of the largest and most historic cities in India, filled with elegant buildings that are hundreds of years old, lies directly on the path of Cyclone Amphan. On Wednesday afternoon, the streets were deserted.
"No one is around," said Jawhar Sircar, a retired government administrator who lives in the city's Gariahat neighborhood. He said the sky was gray and that it was drizzling outside, "like London".
In that case, coronavirus precautions seem to be helping. Many of the 15 million people living in the metropolitan region of Calcutta were already at home, obeying India's blocking rules.
Still, Calcutta officials were taking no chances. They cleaned storm drains, propped up slum shacks with bamboo poles, and removed objects like plant pots from roofs and balconies so they wouldn't turn into missiles.
Calcutta served as the capital of British India from 1772 to 1911, until New Delhi was chosen. It is generally spared the impact of cyclones, as it is more than 80 kilometers inland from the Bay of Bengal. "The British wanted security from the turbulent sea," explained Sircar.
On Wednesday afternoon, the turbulent weather was heading straight for the city.
Climate change is creating more storms like Amphan.
Cyclone Amphan swept through the Bay of Bengal on Monday as the strongest cyclone ever recorded in the region. But on Tuesday, a phenomenon called vertical wind shear – the change in winds with altitude – interrupted the storm's rotational structure, weakening it.
Amphan initially became powerful because the waters it passed through were extremely hot, reaching 88 degrees in parts of the Indian Ocean. Warmer water provides more energy that fuels these rotating storms.
As a result of climate change, ocean temperatures are rising, but other factors, including natural variability, may play a role. While it is not possible to say whether a specific storm like Amphan has been strengthened by climate change, scientists have long expected tropical storms like this to increase in strength as the world warms up.
This expectation was based on the laws of physics and computational climate models and not on studies of real storms. However, earlier this week, researchers in the United States of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, using observational data, reported that the likelihood of these types of cyclone storms becoming equivalent to Category 3 storms has increased by about 8% per decade since the late 1970s.
What makes a storm a hurricane, a typhoon or a cyclone? It all comes down to the location. They all refer to tropical cyclones – circular low-pressure storm systems with winds exceeding 74 miles per hour that form over warm waters – but different terms are used in different parts of the world.
The word hurricane is used for tropical cyclones that form in the North Atlantic, the northeast Pacific, the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico. Typhoons are storms that develop in the Pacific Northwest and generally threaten Asia.
The international date line serves as the dividing marker for the Pacific Ocean; therefore, when a hurricane crosses it from east to west, it becomes a typhoon and vice versa.
The same storms in the Southern Hemisphere are easier to maintain in a straight line. The Amphan storm is moving over the Bay of Bengal, making it simply a cyclone – the same for storms in the Arabian Sea, which is also in the northern Indian Ocean. In the southern Indian Ocean and the South Pacific, they are "tropical cyclones" or "severe tropical cyclones".
All of these cyclonic storms act to regulate the general climate, moving thermal energy from the tropics to the poles.
The reports were contributed by Jeffrey Gettleman, Sameer Yasir, Kai Schultz, Henry Fountain and Jennifer Jett.