Cyclone Amphan, the strongest storm on record in the Bay of Bengal, began landfall on Wednesday afternoon in West Bengal around 2.30 pm, ANI reported quoting the India Meteorological Department.
The weather department’s Bhubaneswar branch director HR Biswas said the landfall process will continue for around 4 hours.
Heavy rain and strong winds battered coastal districts of Odisha and West Bengal earlier on Wednesday. More than four lakh people have been evacuated from the coastal areas in both the states, according to NDTV.
Meanwhile, Bangladesh reported its first casualty from the cyclone, according to AFP. A Bangladesh Red Crescent volunteer drowned as his boat capsized while he was attempting to evacuate stranded villagers in Kutna. “There were four of them on the boat when it sank,” Nurul Islam Khan, director of the Cyclone Preparedness Programme of the Bangladesh Red Crescent, told the news agency.
The West Bengal government in India issued a red alert across several districts and advised all traders in Kolkata and adjacent South Bengal districts to keep shops closed. Amphan, which weakened from a super cyclone to an “extremely severe cyclonic storm” on Tuesday, now lies centred about 120 km east-southeast of Paradip, Odisha.
All operations at the Kolkata airport have been suspended till 5 pm on Thursday, including the special flights, ANI reported. The Eastern Railway has also cancelled the Howrah-New Delhi AC Special Express for Wednesday and the New Delhi-Howrah AC Special Express on Thursday.
The India Meteorological Department in Kolkata said the storm is likely to retain its intensity till Thursday morning. Amphan is expected to pack winds gusting up to 185 kilometres per hour when it crosses West Bengal’s Digha and Bangladesh’s Hatiya. Those living near the coast have been warned against stepping out. Residents have been advised to remain indoors.
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said people should stay indoors from Wednesday morning until an all-clear was sounded. “The tail-end of a cyclone can do worst damage, so people should not come out of their homes until they get an all-clear,” she had said on Tuesday.
India Meteorological Department Director General Mrutyunjay Mohapatra said since Amphan is gradually weakening, it is unlikely to have a severe impact in Odisha. However, coastal districts like Jagatsinghpur, Kendrapara, Bhadrak and Balasore may experience heavy rain along with high-speed winds. Odisha, which was praised for its handling of Cyclone Fani last year, had said earlier that it was prepared to evacuate over a million people.
Forty teams of the National Disaster Response Force have been deployed in West Bengal and Odisha to deal with emergencies. NDRF chief SN Pradhan on Tuesday said both West Bengal and Odisha authorities have been asked to maintain physical distancing in cyclone shelters. “If a shelter has space for 1,000, then only 500 should be allowed,” Pradhan told NDTV.
On Tuesday, Union Home Minister Amit Shah spoke to chief ministers of West Bengal and Odisha over phone. He assured all support from the central government to Mamata Banerjee and Naveen Patnaik. This came a day after Prime Minister Narendra Modi chaired a meeting to review the response measures and preparedness to tackle the storm. “I pray for everyone’s safety and assure all possible support from the Central Government,” Modi had tweeted after the meeting.