West Bengal Braces for Cyclone Amphan

Cyclone Amphan, May 17 (Suomi / NASA Worldview)

Published May 17, 2020 3:29 PM by The Maritime Executive

Cyclone Amphan - a large storm system which has been gathering strength in the Bay of Bengal - has intensified into a "very severe" cyclonic storm, and Indian forces have been put on alert in case an emergency response is required.

Amphan is expected to make landfall in the vicinity of Sundarban National Park, a vast mangrove forest which straddles the border between West Bengal and Bangladesh. The edges of the storm are expected to affect populated areas along the coastline southwest of Kolkata. Response teams from the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) have been deployed to assist if needed, and evacuation plans affecting up to 1.1 million people are under way for coastal areas of Odisha. One challenge: a third of Odisha's cyclone evacuation shelters are already in use for housing returing COVID-19 evacuees from other states, Special Relief Commissioner (SRC) P K Jena told PTI. 

The Indian Navy has been put on high alert for potential humanitarian relief, evacuation and logistics missions. 20 boat rescue teams have been prepared for deployment to Odisha and West Bengal, the states most likely to be affected. Indian Navy aviation assets are on standby in Visakhapatnam and Arakkonam to assist if needed.

Indian fishermen in Odisha and West Bengal have been advised to stay on shore and avoid the northern portion of the Bay of Bengal until May 21. Those who were already out at sea in these areas were asked to return to shore by May 17 at the latest.

Even though Amphan is already north of Sri Lanka and moving further northwards, the Sri Lankan Department of Meteorology has advised fishermen to avoid going out until further notice due to the worsening hazards of the storm. For any fishing boats still operating within the storm's reach, "those who are out at sea over these regions are advised to return to coasts or moved safer areas immediately," the agency said in an update Sunday.