Heavy rains and winds are lashing parts of eastern India and Bangladesh as a super cyclone approaches.
Both countries have evacuated millions of people in preparation for Cyclone Amphan, which is coming in from the Bay of Bengal.
India’s weather department tweeted that Amphan was on course to make landfall “between afternoon and evening” local time.
The coronavirus has made evacuations more difficult for authorities.
India and Bangladesh have asked for schools and other buildings to be turned into temporary shelters – but they need more space than usual in order to house people while maintaining social distancing.
Police in India’s West Bengal state, which is expected to be badly affected by the storm, told the BBC that people were unwilling to go to the shelters because they were afraid of contracting Covid-19.
Amphan is the first super cyclonic storm in the Bay of Bengal since the 1999 super cyclone that killed more than 9,000 people.
More than 20 relief teams have already been deployed, and several more are on standby, Indian officials said
Amphan is expected to hit the coast with winds gusting up to 185km/h (115mph) – the equivalent of a Category Five hurricane.
Officials in Bangladesh fear it will be the most powerful storm since Cyclone Sidr killed about 3,500 people in 2007. Most died as a result of sea water surging in.
While the storm’s current wind speed is likely to reduce slightly before it makes landfall, India’s weather department is predicting storm surges as high as 10-16 feet (3-5 metres).
The cyclone comes as ten of thousands of migrant workers continue to flee cities for their villages during India’s lockdown to curb the spread of coronavirus. West Bengal and Orissa (Odisha) are among the Indian states that are seeing a larger number of them return.
Orissa has cancelled trains that were due to arrive with thousands of migrants between 18 and 20 May. Some district officials have barred entry and requested the state government to accommodate the migrants – many of whom are walking home – elsewhere until the storm passes.
Both states have halted air traffic as well.
Bangladesh’s disaster management minister earlier told the BBC that authorities there planned to evacuate about two million people – an operation they expected to continue into Wednesday morning.
Extra shelters have been prepared to allow for social distancing, while masks are also being distributed.
However, there are fears for hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees who fled Myanmar and live in camps in the country. The main camps are not in the direct path of the storm but Bangladeshi officials said they had moved hundreds of Rohingya living on an island in the Bay of Bengal into shelters.
Meanwhile state officials in India are struggling to find shelters for evacuees. In Orissa, for instance, 250 of the more than 800 existing shelters are being used as coronavirus quarantine centres.
Around 50,000 people have also been evacuated from areas near the Sunderban islands in India.
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